Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, ‘The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about… and every practical investor I know worries about. So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE:RLGY) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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 frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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.
How Much Debt Does Realogy Holdings Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Realogy Holdings had US$3.45b in debt in December 2019; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has US$235.0m in cash leading to net debt of about US$3.21b.
A Look At Realogy Holdings’s Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Realogy Holdings had liabilities of US$1.15b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.30b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$235.0m and US$79.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$5.13b.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$341.1m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we’d watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Realogy Holdings would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
We measure a company’s debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).
Weak interest cover of 1.5 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.9 hit our confidence in Realogy Holdings like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we’d consider it to have a heavy debt load. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that Realogy Holdings saw its EBIT drop by 19% over the last twelve months. If that’s the way things keep going handling the debt load will be like delivering hot coffees on a pogo stick. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Realogy Holdings’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Realogy Holdings 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.
To be frank both Realogy Holdings’s net debt to EBITDA and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it’s pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that’s encouraging. Overall, it seems to us that Realogy Holdings’s balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we’re almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner’s fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we’ve identified 2 warning signs for Realogy Holdings (1 shouldn’t be ignored) you should be aware of.
Of course, if you’re the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don’t hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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