Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Diluted EPS and the Capital Structure

Although the financial media's reporting centers almost entirely on a corporation's reported basic earnings-per-share (EPS), most analysts have historically paid attention to a different line on the income statement: Diluted Earnings per Share. Diluted EPS takes into account the potential dilutive effect that would ensue if holders of the firms preferred stock and bonds were to convert their stake into common equity. This possibility theoretically exists whenever investors purchases securities that include a conversion option. Usually there is some sort of market based trigger point, but ultimately those details will be contained on the face of the preferred stock certificate, or in the bond covenants. For the sake of simplicity, let's say that Company X earned $1000 in a given quarter, and there are 1000 shares outstanding, resulting in quarterly Basic EPS of $1/share. However, let's assume that Company X has also financed itself via 500 shares of convertible preferred stock which give holders the right to convert each preferred share into 2 shares of common equity. Assuming that all preferred holders exercised that option, Company X would record 2000 outstanding shares of common stock, and would only have earned 50 cents/share for the same quarter. This hypothetical example is rather extreme for the purposes of making a point; below is a chart showing Basic v Diluted EPS during the most recently reported quarter for 7 large firms:
Corporations must disclose both basic and diluted EPS on the income statement, however the actual calculation is below for those who must know:

Diluted EPS = (Net Income - Preferred Dividends) / (Weighted Average # of Common Shares Outstanding + Additional Shares Due to Dilutive Securities)

Arithmetically, we can see that the dilutive effect increases the denominator, reducing the amount of net income available to each shareholder. In many firms with simple capital structures, the basic and diluted EPS numbers will be identical. However, firms that utilize more complex financing instruments generally have more potential for dilutive equity conversions.

Going forward, I would expect Diluted EPS to continue to gain significance, especially with regards to analysis of financial corporations. As banks struggle to refinance trillions of dollars worth of debt, the use of convertible options should become more popular for a couple of reasons. First, a conversion option represents value to the investor and additional capital for the borrower. Second, if the conversion option is tied to a regulatory trigger like TCE ratios, then the borrower is essentially selling an automatic equity boosting instrument for times of market distress. If things play out like I anticipate regarding convertible debt, the gap between basic and diluted EPS will grow further. Equity investors need to monitor these developments to insure that they are not diluted into oblivion.

*no positions
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