The following is a reprint of my December 13, 2007 RealMoney column.
Diebold (DBD), the maker of ATM machines and much-criticized automated voting machines, never seems far from controversy. It also has developed a habit over the last ten years or so of its share price swinging wildly back and forth between the $30’s and $50’s every couple of years. With the pendulum now back at the low end, traders may be tempted to hop on for the ride. Investors, however, should probably look elsewhere.
The Latest Controversy
Diebold topped out at $54.50 in late July, when it announced it would miss the deadline for filing its 10Q for the June quarter “while it seeks guidance from the Office of the Chief Accountant (the “OCA”) of the Securities and Exchange Commission with regard to its revenue recognition policy.”
After receiving said guidance, Diebold announced on October 2 that it would cease using the “bill and hold” method to record sales. The company helpfully added that:
The change in the company’s revenue recognition practice, and the potential amendment of prior financial statements, would only affect the timing of recognition of certain revenue. While the percentage of the company’s global bill and hold revenue varied from period to period, it represented 11 percent of Diebold’s total consolidated revenue in 2006. The company does not anticipate that the change in the timing of revenue recognition would impact previously reported cash provided by operating activities or the company’s net cash position.
Diebold will provide further information once it has completed an in-depth analysis of the most appropriate revenue recognition method and has reviewed it with its independent auditors and its audit committee. While the company cannot predict with certainty the length of time it will take to complete this analysis and review, it anticipates the process will take at least 30 days. Upon completing this process, Diebold will be in a position to provide updated revenue and earnings guidance for the full-year 2007.
At least 30 days later, the company announced its September quarter 10Q would also be delayed, as it is “in the process of determining the most appropriate method to replace its bill and hold practice, and has sought additional guidance from the OCA.”
Bill and Huh?
For the uninitiated, an SEC document describes what they are looking for:
Improper accounting for bill-and-hold transactions usually involves the recording of revenue from a sale, even though the customer has not taken title of the product and assumed the risks and rewards of ownership of the products specified in the customer’s purchase order or sales agreement. In a typical bill-and-hold transaction, the seller does not ship the product or ships it to a delivery site other than the customer’s site.
Diebold’s revenue growth rate in 2007 was 12.3%, and may have been mostly due to this questionable revenue recognition practice (as bill and hold sales were approximately 11% of total revenue in 2006.) Furthermore, since half the recorded revenue was service-related, the actual product sales may have even declined year/year.
Diebold’s chief rival, NCR (NCR) has noted that the upgrade cycle for ATM machines is in a lull. This is before any potential spending cutbacks by banks needing to conserve cash in the wake of the subprime crisis. It is hard to imagine the revenue growth getting much better.
Somebody Buy Them A Clue
As for “the most appropriate method to replace its bill and hold practice,” I don’t see why the company requires additional guidance from the OCA. They should recognize revenue when the customer accepts delivery of the product or service in question. In their own 10K they tell investors “for product sales, the company determines that the earnings process is complete when the customer has assumed risk of loss of the goods sold and all performance requirements are substantially complete.”
The fact that the company needs additional guidance when its own 10K describes the appropriate policy is troubling. Just as the previous CEO’s massive fund-raising activities for one political party cast doubt on the company’s objectivity when providing election equipment, the company appears to keep making mistakes that should be easily avoidable.
Shares are No Bargain
Now, just because the company keeps shooting itself in the foot doesn’t mean its stock is overpriced. Down 40% from the recent peak, it is worth asking whether the bad news is all priced in. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is.
For one thing, the stock is trading at 26x the 2006 earnings per share. Those are the most recent earnings figures available since the company is late filing its reports, and even they are likely to be revised lower following the restatements. The existing 2007 and 2008 consensus EPS estimates are most likely wishful thinking.
So how about cash flow? After all, as the company points out, changing from the bill-and-hold method shouldn’t affect the reported cash flow from operating activities. Measuring free cash flow as cash from operating activities less capital expenditures, the $206 million in 2006 free cash flow represents an 8% yield on the current enterprise value. I would normally consider such a yield worth pursuing.
The problem is, I don’t think that cash flow is sustainable. A good chunk of it was due to the company reducing working capital, a strategy that can be taken only so far. I peg the sustainable rate of cash from operations at about $90 million less than was reported, and I also have questions about the rise in “certain other assets.”
Making these adjustments, the free cash flow starts looking more like $80 million, for a yield of just 3.1%.
With the financial statements raising more questions than answers, likely slowing and the valuation mediocre at best, Diebold looks like a stock to avoid.
William Trent currently has a short position in put options related to Office Depot (ODP).