The Folly of 90%+ Security Analysts-How They Define Free Cash Flow

May 4th, 2011 by hackel Leave a reply »



Over 90% of security analysts and companies which file with the SEC define free cash flow as cash flow from operating activities minus capital spending. This is incorrect. Of course, many firms tailor-make their own free cash flow definition.

It ignores the important misclassifications, one-time items, and areas of overspending as well as required spending (underpayments to pension plans, claims, etc.) that firms have not made, but need to.

A rather obvious example is that of Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which a simple investment screen would show as selling for 4x free cash flow. The reason is the recording as an operating cash flow activity one-time nonrefundable cash payments of $900 million from PepsiCo and $715 million from Coca-Cola, both recorded as deferred revenue.

Unfortunately, at CT Capital LLC, we come across a large number of less obvious and even “hidden”  within footnote and income statement items, activities which most analysts may not consider and which beefed up operating (therefore “free”) cash flows. For instance many firms bury asset sales and collections on insurance within broad classifications. Including these and other such items provides for a faulty appraisal of fair value.

For a complete discussion on this topic see Security Valuation and Risk Analysis..


Kenneth S. Hackel, CFA




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