Community Health Systems updated its longer-term financial goals Thursday to be slightly more ambitious than when they were originally unveiled early last year.
The tweaked goals were part of the Franklin, Tennessee-based hospital chain's earnings release for the fourth quarter of 2021. The health system first rolled out its "medium-term financial goals" in early 2021 and said it planned to achieve them over the next two to four years.
CHS now plans to hit an adjusted earnings margin—measured as adjusted earnings before income, taxes, depreciation and amortization—of more than 16% over the same time frame, up from its previous goal of more than 15%. The company's EBITDA margin was 15.9% in 2021, up from 15.3% in 2020. CHS also said it will continue to generate annual free cash flow, whereas the original goal was simply to generate free cash flow annually. The company also plans to reduce its debt ratio even further. Instead of bringing leverage below six times net debt to EBITDA, CHS plans to bring it below five times net debt to EBITDA.
"In the past year, we've made significant progress on each of these goals," Kevin Hammons, CHS' chief financial officer, said on the company's investor call. "As we move forward, we expect to continue to grow EBITDA and EBITDA margin, build annual free cash flow generation and continue to lower our financial leverage."
The medium-term goals are different from annual guidance, which investors will track more closely. In 2022, CHS expects revenue of $12.6 billion to $13.1 billion. The company generated $12.4 billion in operating revenue in 2021, up from $11.8 billion in 2020.
Analysts and investors don't hold companies to their medium-term goals the same way they do with annual guidance, said Britton Costa, Fitch Ratings' head of healthcare and pharmaceuticals. They're more of a way for companies to tell the story of where they expect to go.
"When we think about Community, this is very much a company that's been on a really material transformation over the past couple of years," Costa said. "They've changed the size of the company, the focus of the company and correspondingly how the capitalization and the natural profile of the company has changed. This indicates continued confidence that they're not done yet. There are still more improvements ahead at the company."
CHS in 2020 wrapped up a multi-year effort to sell underperforming hospitals. There are signs that the program strengthened the company's bottom line.
CHS' net income fell 39% year-over-year in 2021 to $368 million. The company's revenue increased 5% in that time, while expenses grew 2.8% to just under $11 billion.