Why would a business customer take 212 days to pay you? There may be a lot of reasons, but in the case of very large companies coveted as customers by all kinds of businesses, the answer may just be, “because they can.”
Analyzing data provided by S&P Capital IQ, CFO found 45 publicly held U.S. companies (outside of financial services) that took an extraordinarily long time paying their suppliers in their latest fiscal quarter, even when factoring in (1) how long other companies in their industry took to pay and (2) how slow the company itself has been in paying in past quarters.
The 45 companies had an average days payable outstanding (DPO) of 212.3. The slowest company had a DPO of 585.9, and the fastest 63.7. DPO, of course, is an accounts payable metric that represents the average number of days a company takes to pay outstanding invoices.
Each of the 45 companies had an average DPO in their latest quarter that was in the 80th or greater percentile (in many cases the 90th or greater) among their industry peers and in the 80th percentile or greater among their last 12 reported quarters. A company in the 90th percentile, for example, had a higher DPO than 90% of its peers. Comparing its quarterly performance over three years, a company in the 90th percentile for DPO paid its suppliers slower in only one or two other quarters.
The 20 companies with the worst DPO peformance compared with their industry peers were Tessera Technologies, AbbVie, Jones Energy, Noble Energy, Questar, AutoZone, Cadence Deisgn Systems, The Coca-Cola Company, SunEdison, TC Pipelines, O’Reilly Automotive, Bristol-Myers Squibb, PPG Industries, South Jersey Industries, Sotheby’s, Seaspan, Magnum Hunter Resources, Marriott International, Red Hat, and Crown Holdings.
As we noted in a similar story in August 2013, a relatively high DPO can be a positive for a company trying to optimize its working capital. “The company is able to deploy cash to other uses for an extended period — cash that otherwise would have had to be paid immediately to a supplier. But too high a DPO number can indicate a company undergoing liquidity issues or other financial distress.”
In the case of the 45 companies, 5 of them had net losses in the latest quarter for which data were available: SunEdison, Magnum Hunter Resources, NuVasive, Overseas Shipholding Group and Zillow.
DPO is not a perfect metric, of course, being only a snapshot in time. As Henry Ijams of PaySream Advisors said last year, “A company could have just purchased something, like an extra amount of inventory at the end of a quarter, and that’s going to distort the figure — make it look like DPO is higher.”
On the flip side, a company with low DPO is not necessarily paying every supplier’s invoice promptly. The metric can hide that while a company is paying strategic suppliers in a short time frame, it is taking advantage of longer terms with other suppliers.
The S&P Capital IQ data included only companies that have a total enterprise value (market capitalization plus interest-bearing debt plus preferred stock minus excess cash) of $1 billion or more.