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Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, ‘The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.’ So it seems the smart money knows that debt – which is usually involved in bankruptcies – is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We note that ACI Worldwide, Inc. (NASDAQ:ACIW) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company’s debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is ACI Worldwide’s Net Debt?
As you can see below, ACI Worldwide had US$677.6m of debt, at March 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$176.2m, its net debt is less, at about US$501.5m.
How Healthy Is ACI Worldwide’s Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that ACI Worldwide had liabilities of US$260.4m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$821.2m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$176.2m as well as receivables valued at US$265.8m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$639.6m.
Since publicly traded ACI Worldwide shares are worth a total of US$3.85b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. Either way, since ACI Worldwide does have more debt than cash, it’s worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet.
In order to size up a company’s debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
ACI Worldwide has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.08 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 3.69 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn’t want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Fortunately, ACI Worldwide grew its EBIT by 5.1% in the last year, slowly shrinking its debt relative to earnings. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if ACI Worldwide can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, ACI Worldwide recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 85% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we’d usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
The good news is that ACI Worldwide’s demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But truth be told we feel its interest cover does undermine this impression a bit. All these things considered, it appears that ACI Worldwide can comfortably handle its current debt levels. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it’s worth monitoring the balance sheet. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to the extra confidence that we’d gain if we knew that ACI Worldwide insiders have been buying shares: if you’re on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
If you’re interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.