There’s no foolproof way to know the future for Morningstar, Inc. (NASDAQ:MORN) or any other company. However, certain clues may help you see potential stumbles before they happen — and before your stock craters as a result.
A cloudy crystal ball
In this series, we use accounts receivable and days sales outstanding to judge a company’s current health and future prospects. It’s an important step in separating the pretenders from the market’s best stocks. Alone, AR — the amount of money owed the company — and DSO — the number of days’ worth of sales owed to the company — don’t tell you much. However, by considering the trends in AR and DSO, you can sometimes get a window onto the future.
Sometimes, problems with AR or DSO simply indicate a change in the business (like an acquisition), or lax collections. However, AR that grows more quickly than revenue, or ballooning DSO, can, at times, suggest a desperate company that’s trying to boost sales by giving its customers overly generous payment terms. Alternately, it can indicate that the company sprinted to book a load of sales at the end of the quarter, like used-car dealers on the 29th of the month. (Sometimes, companies do both.)
Why might an upstanding firm like Morningstar, Inc. (NASDAQ:MORN) do this? For the same reason any other company might: to make the numbers. Investors don’t like revenue shortfalls, and employees don’t like reporting them to their superiors.
Is Morningstar sending any potential warning signs? Take a look at the chart below, which plots revenue growth against AR growth, and DSO:
Source: S&P Capital IQ. Data is current as of last fully reported fiscal quarter. FQ = fiscal quarter.
The standard way to calculate DSO uses average accounts receivable. I prefer to look at end-of-quarter receivables, but I’ve plotted both above.