The stock has been on a tear lately - rising from $10 to $13.59 in the last week - poking above $14. To some degree this is just standard volatility for a bombed out stock. But it was prompted by Valeant producing results with a sharp rise in "adjusted EBITDA" and guiding for higher adjusted EBITDA. As the FT put it Valeant "bumped guidance".
The Valeant adjusted cash flow caper
I want to explore this "adjusted EBITDA" number. Then I want to lay out the valuation directly.
Valeant has a history of producing little or no GAAP earnings but very large adjusted cash flow. The adjustments are after a collection of exceptions chosen by management and not subject to audit. This blog has demonstrated in the past that some of these exclusions from cash flow are recurring expenses. That said here is the history going back to the final quarter of 2012.
|2012-04||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||423|
|2013-01||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||345|
|2013-02||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||423|
|2013-03||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||408|
|2013-04||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||607|
|2014-01||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||636|
|2014-02||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||500|
|2014-03||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||771|
|2014-04||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||624|
|2015-01||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||708|
|2015-02||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||773|
|2015-03||Adjusted Operating Cash Flow||865|
|2016-01||Adjusted Earnings, Adjusted EBITDA**||442, 1076|
|2016-02||Adjusted net income, Adjusted EBITDA***||487, 1087|
|2016-03||Adjusted net income, Adjusted EBITDA#||543, 1163|
|2016-04||Adjusted net income, Adjusted EBITDA##||441, 1045|
|2017-01||Adjusted net income, Adjusted EBITDA###||273, 861|
Alas this table of changing measures requires some notes.
*In the fourth quarter of 2015 the company presented a late annual report. It announced preliminary earnings that contained a new measure: "adjusted EPS". The "adjusted EPS": was not reconciled in any way to previously announced "adjusted cash flow". The "adjusted earnings" in the above table are is the total adjusted earnings that was used to calculate the "adjusted EPS".
**In the first quarter of 2016 the company reported an adjusted EPS number and and adjusted EBITDA number started guiding for an adjusted EBITDA number. You would think this number to be broadly consistent with previously used "adjusted operating cash flow" numbers. It wasn't. Remarkably there was an unexplained mismatch between the 2015 first quarter adjusted EBITDA number and the originally reported "adjusted operating cash flow". The old number was 708 million as in the above table. The new number was 1127 million. Somehow as Valeant was collapsing they surreptitiously changed their adjustment to even further increase their stated adjusted cash flows.
***In the second quarter of 2016 the company reported an "adjusted net income" which was inconsistent with previously reported numbers. The previously reported number was "adjusted operating cash flow" of $773 million in the second quarter of 2015. Now they reported "adjusted net income" of $751 million for the same quarter. I cannot reconcile the old $773 million number to the new $751 million number.
#In the third quarter of 2016 the company produced an "adjusted earnings" and adjusted EPS number. There is a number for adjusted earnings in the previous corresponding period (that is the third quarter of 2015). That number is $845 million. Again I cannot reconcile this number to the previously stated number.
##In the fourth quarter of 2016 the same issue arises but this time with respect to adjusted EBITDA which is now reported as $1374 million in the fourth quarter of 2015.
###In the first quarter of 2017 the adjusted EBITDA presented for the first quarter of 2016 was $1008 million. Again it cannot be reconciled to the previously reported $1076 million.
Huge cash flows - company is on its knees
Its pretty obvious here that the "adjusted" numbers need to be taken with some salt. Firstly the adjustments simply do not reconcile quarter on quarter. Secondly despite all these adjustments GAAP earnings look limp and the company is on its knees.
In the last quarter the GAAP earnings look fine until you realise that more than 100 percent of them come from writing down previously accrued deferred tax liabilities. The earnings are good because the company won't be paying as much tax in the future (possibly because losses are large and unrecoverable).
The headline: guiding up non GAAP adjusted EBITDA
That said the headline for the Valeant numbers were that they bumped up guidance for their own non-GAAP measures. (They do not and never have guided GAAP numbers.) Here is the key text:
Valeant has raised guidance for 2017, as follows:
- 2017 Full Year Adjusted EBITDA (non-GAAP) in the range of $3.60 - $3.75 billion from $3.55 - $3.70 billion
This guidance reflects the impact of the sale of the CeraVe, AcneFree and AMBI skincare brands. This guidance does not reflect the impact of the sale of the Dendreon business, which is expected to close mid-year.
What this does not state is that they missed previously announced revenue guidance - and missed it quite badly.
This was the previously announced guidance (announced with the fourth quarter 2016 results):
Valeant has provided guidance for 2017 as follows:
- GAAP Total Revenues in the range $8.90 billion - $9.10 billion,
- Adjusted EBITDA (non-GAAP) in the range of $3.55 billion - $3.70 billion
But in the first quarter revenue came in at $2.109 billion. That is a really big drop. You would have to think that Valeant is going to miss its annual earnings guidance by $500 million or so. The FT article notes an 11 percent decline in revenue.
The common sense test
I am an old fashioned sort of guy. There are really only two ways you can raise real EBITDA (and hence I would think that there are only two ways you can raise adjusted EBITDA).
- The first way is you increase revenues.
- The second way is you decrease costs.
I think that is the end of the story.
So Valeant revenues are on track to miss guidance by about half a billion dollars. But they are going to beat their adjusted EBITDA number.
This can only be done if they have decreased their costs by an unanticipated half a billion dollars.
Possible: but I would like to know what costs they are cutting that they had not previously anticipated.
Remember this is a company that was notorious for cutting costs (possibly to excess) whenever they purchased an asset.
This was the company who fired almost all non-revenue producing people.
Scientists doing research: fire them.
Compliance officers: fire them.
So I am left with a choice. Either
- The entire myth of Valeant - that it was a ruthlessly low cost operation is bullshit and there are still plenty of unanticipated costs to cut allowing the company to miss on revenue and beat on adjusted EBITDA, or
- They are cutting hard into revenue producing staff, but this is going to raise adjusted EBITDA or
- The adjusted EBITDA number and guidance is BS.
As you can guess common sense leads me to the third choice. The adjusted EBITDA number and guidance remain BS.
So you are left trying to value it against revenue.
Assuming that Valeant's rag-tag of declining generic drugs with increasing competition is - per dollar of revenue - as good as Gilead - is of course generous.
But lets assume that...
If you project pretty gnarly falls on Gilead Revenue (simply because their drug works) it is hard to get below 3 times sales for Gilead.
So if all goes really well you can make some money. But you need to make some pretty heroic assumptions.
Then you need to assume that the revenue doesn't continue to fall. (I think it will. The company will not be allowed to charge over $200 thousand per year for drugs like Syprine indefinitely. There is probably half a billion to a billion in revenue that will go away simply as competition hits the massively overpriced generics. Actually half a billion is generous.