Meal-kit provider Blue Apron Holdings Inc.‘s shares rocketed 38% on Tuesday, after the company said it is confident it can achieve a version of profitability this year. The recipe for the stock’s turnaround may be mostly accounting.
The rosy outlook for the first quarter and year is dependent on an adjusted, non-standard method of accounting that ignores chronic losses and declining revenue. By standard accounting, called GAAP, for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the results have been dismal, pushing the stock down 60% in the last 12 months.
New York-based Blue Apron /zigman2/quotes/203710464/composite APRN +6.79% said it “plans to reaffirm confidence in achieving profitability on an adjusted EBITDA basis both in the first quarter of 2019 and for full year 2019 as it actively pursues the appropriate strategies to create value for its stakeholders.”
EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, is already an adjusted number, one that is often used as a measure of cash flow. The company said its redefined “adjusted EBITDA” also eliminates share-based compensation expense as well as interest income (expense), net, other operating expense, other income (expense), net, benefit (provision) for income taxes and depreciation and amortization.
The exclusion of share-based compensation is likely because the company says it “has recently been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, a significant recurring expense for the company’s business and an important part of its compensation strategy.”
In its latest quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission , the company said stock-based compensation rose to $13.6 million in the nine months to end September from $8.8 million in the year-earlier period. That company posted a net loss of $33.9 million for the quarter, equal to 18 cents a share, that compared with a loss of $87.2 million, or 47 cents a share in the year-earlier period. Revenue fell to $150.6 million from $210.6 million.
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The company announced on November 13 that it would lay off 4% of its workforce to speed the path to profitability.
Rosanna Landis Weaver, program manager, CEO Pay at nonprofit As You Sow, criticized the move.
“They call them “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” for a reason,” she said. “There are some limited rationales for straying from them, but for a company with a balance sheet like Blue Apron’s to stray so far raises legitimate concerns.”
Tom Selling, a professor emeritus at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and author of the Accounting Onion blog, said EBITDA would not be the first measure of interest to him regarding Blue Apron.
“What I would want to know with a company like this is what is their revenue,” he told MarketWatch. “Maybe traders today are filling in the blanks differently than I would.”
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Blue Apron Chief Executive Brad Dickerson said adjusted EBITDA is a commonly used metric and that removing non-cash stock-based compensation was a way of showing investors underlying cash flow. It’s a non-cash charge that companies often strip out and the context was to show an improvement in the underlying business.
Asked if it was potentially misleading to tell investors the company would be profitable based on one non-standard metric, he said he “couldn’t disagree more,” and that the company was “reiterating messaging from November,” when it released third-quarter earnings.
Blue Apron said in Tuesday’s press release it was offering the non-GAAP metric because it is unable to reconcile guidance to GAAP, or Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, at this time. It offered the forecast ahead of the release of fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 31 and accompanying conference call.
Analysts can expect an update on its renewed focus on engaging consumers with its direct-to-consumer platform as well as on the response to its partnership with WW , the renamed Weight Watchers, according to the release.
Shares have gained 6% in the last three months, while the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.34% and Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +2.13% have fallen about 5%.