This week, a prominent financial journalist was reporting on the cash flows of a well-known company, accentuating its strength and growth.
The reporter detailed the analysis of this public company by a firm which “specializes” in cash flow-based security analysis; however, as I looked into their analysis (which I have a hunch is a computer generated number as they are a small firm, yet issue cash flow reports on every S&P segment), I discovered they neglected the effect of lease obligations, which for this company, was substantial. The company does produce healthy and consistent cash flows, and its credit strength allows them to sign large capital leases which, under Generally Accepted Accounting Standards (GAAP), appear on the balance sheet, as opposed to operating leases, which do not, but should. Thus, capital leases result in more conservative reporting as they are included in normal debt and leverage ratios. This is not always the case with operating leases, similar to other post-retirement benefits, like health care, which are not normally included on the balance sheet and are not pre-funded.