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There are many ways to analyze the performance of a company, some more popular than others. According to the Barney text the accounting method is the most popular way of measuring a firm's performance (Barney, 2002). Some of the reasons for the popularity could include the fact that accounting measures of performance are publicly available on many firms and they communicate a great deal of information about a firm's operations. Other methods of performance analysis include firm survival and the multiple stakeholder approach.
The first method we will review is the accounting method. Through this accounting approach we will analyze specific ratios and their possible impact on the company's performance. The specific ratios we will review include the return on total assets, return on equity, gross profit margin, earnings per share, price earnings ratio, debt to assets, debt to equity, accounts receivable turnover, total asset turnover, fixed asset turnover, and average collection period. I will explain each ratio in greater detail, and why I have included it in this analysis, when I give the results of each specific ratio calculation.
The return on total assets (ROA) is an overall measure of profitability which measures the total effectiveness of management in generating profits with its available assets. This ratio indicates the amount of net income generated by each dollar invested in assets. The higher the firm's return on total assets, the better. Harley Davidson's return on total assets was 14.04% for 2001, 14.27% for 2000. These percentages are high and show an upward trend, this shows strong performance in this area for the past two years.
Return on equity (ROE) measures profitability from the stockholders perspective. The ROE is a calculation of the return earned on the common stockholders' investment in the firm. Generally, the higher this return, the better off the stockholders are. Harley Davidson's return on equity was 24.92% for 2001, 24.74% for 2000. They have sustained consistent, positive, returns for their shareholders for the past two years.
The next ratio we will review is gross profit margin. Gross profit margin (GPM) measures the percentage of each sales dollar remaining after the firm has paid for its goods. The higher the gross profit margin, the better. Harley Davidson's gross profit margin was 35.08% for 2001, 34.09% for 2000.
The fourth ratio we will analyze is earnings per share. Earnings per share (EPS) are the number of dollars earned during the period on behalf of each outstanding share of common stock.
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The next ratio we will review is the price earnings ratio. Price earnings ratio (p/e) measures the market price of each share of common stock to the earnings per share, or the amount that investors are willing to pay for each dollar of a firms earnings. The higher the price earning ratio, the greater is investor confidence. Harley Davidson's p/e ratio was 24.14 for 2001, 3.04 for 2000, and 28.41 for 1999. The drastic drop from 1999 to 2000 would be cause for concern but the ratio went up again in 2001. I included 1999 information to show the fluctuation.
The sixth ratio we will analyze is the debt to assets ratio which measures the extent to which debt has been used to finance firm's business activities or the extent to which a company's debt could be repaid by liquidating its assets. Harley Davidson's Debt to assets ration was 43.68% for 2001, 42.30% for 2000.
Another important ratio to consider when analyzing a firms performance is debt to equity. Debt to equity measures a firm's use of debt versus equity to finance a firm's business activities. Harley Davidson's debt to equity ratio was .78 times for 2001 and .73 times for 2000
The next ratio we will review is accounts receivable turnover. Accounts receivable turnover measures the average time it takes for a firm to collect on credit sales. Harley Davidson's accounts receivable turnover rate is 6.75 times for 2001 and 8.74 times for 2000. This accounts receivable turnover rate seems low and would indicate that Harley Davidson is able to turn their receivables into cash quickly.
Another ratio we will look at is total asset turnover rate. Total asset turnover rate measures how efficiently a company uses its assets to generate sales. In 2001 the total asset turnover rate was 1.079 and in 2000 it was 1.193. The fixed asset turnover ratio is similar to the total asset turnover ratio but includes only fixed assets. The fixed asset turnover rate measures the capacity utilization and the quality of fixed assets and was 3.771 for 2001 and 3.854 for 2000.
The final ratio we will analyze is the average collection period which measures the time it takes a firm to receive payments after a sale has been made. The average collection period was 55 days for 2001 and 42 days for 2000. While these numbers seem to be very high the reader needs to remember that they are dealing with a large ticket item and financing is usually arranged and payments from the finance company could take more time than cash payments that are normal in the traditional retail marketplace.
While the accounting method is popular and widely accepted it does have some limitations. There are three important limitations to this method. The first limitation is that management discretion can influence financial reporting. This influence can be used to either raise or lower profitability factors depending on the manager's motives. The second limitation is there can be a short-term bias to the data. This short-term bias happens when long-term, multiple-year, investments are not generating revenues that exceed the cost. The last limitation is that the firm usually does not properly value the intangible resources and capabilities which are productive assets but difficult to measure.
The next performance measure we will discuss is the firm survival measure, which is by far the easiest of all methods to use. In this method the past survival of a company is used to determine performance levels. Thus, it is assumed, that a company that has survived for an extended period of time must be generating at least normal economic performance (Barney, 2002). In looking at only the past survival of Harley Davidson I would rate the performance as high. They have recently celebrated their 100th anniversary and that alone is a huge accomplishment.
The final performance measure we will discuss is the stakeholder approach. In this approach all stakeholders are looked at individually and the performance is viewed from their perspective. The stakeholders of Harley Davidson include customers, employees, management, executives, suppliers, partners, equity holders, debt holders, and society at large.
Evaluating the performance of Harley Davidson through the eyes of each stakeholder proves to be much more difficult than the accounting approach due to the fact that so much of the information that one would need would come only through a thorough understanding of the company's operation, whereas in the accounting method the information is all easily accessible.
Customers of Harley Davidson seem to be very satisfied and the "customer experience" is regarded highly. Customers enjoy the benefits of the rider training program and the H.O.G. program which involves them with hundreds of other Harley owners with interests similar to theirs.
The shareholders of the company have enjoyed solid returns and steady growth for the past three years. While competition is a major factor in the motorcycle industry it seems obvious that Harley Davidson has stayed one step ahead and given their shareholders what they want.
Employees seem to be satisfied and show tremendous loyalty to the company. It is stated that approximately 50% of the employees own Harley Davidson motorcycles and that they purchased them through a dealer so they would get a first-hand look at the customer experience (Wheelen & Hunger 2006). There was little, or no, information to evaluate the performance of Harley Davidson through the eyes management or top executives.
In looking at the performance through the eyes of the suppliers, the case study does claim that Harley Davidson enjoys mutually beneficial relationships with their suppliers (Barney, 2002). I would take this to imply that the suppliers are satisfied with the relationship and would rate the performance of Harley Davidson high.
Obliviously, the information given in this stakeholders section of the performance analysis is minimal at best and would not be beneficial for decision making. It is however possible that it could be beneficial when combined with the information gained through the accounting method and the firm survival method to get a more complete picture of the overall performance and to reduce the limitations of any one method.
Barney, J. (2002). Gaining and sustaining a competitive advantage. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Wheelen, T. L., & Hunger, J. D. (2006). Cases in strategic management and business policy (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.