Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that ‘Volatility is far from synonymous with risk’. It’s only natural to consider a company’s balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We note that DCC plc (LON:DCC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can’t easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is DCC’s Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2019 DCC had debt of UK£2.17b, up from UK£2.01b in one year. On the flip side, it has UK£1.68b in cash leading to net debt of about UK£496.7m.
A Look At DCC’s Liabilities
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that DCC had liabilities of UK£2.59b due within 12 months and liabilities of UK£2.62b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had UK£1.68b in cash and UK£1.47b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total UK£2.07b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit isn’t so bad because DCC is worth UK£6.15b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
With net debt sitting at just 0.84 times EBITDA, DCC is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 8.9 times the interest expense over the last year. Also good is that DCC grew its EBIT at 17% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage debt. There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if DCC 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, DCC recorded free cash flow worth 61% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
The good news is that DCC’s demonstrated ability handle its debt, based on its EBITDA, delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that DCC takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Be aware that DCC is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those is concerning…
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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