David Iben put it well when he said, ‘Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital. 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. Importantly, ASML Holding N.V. (AMS:ASML) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does ASML Holding Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that ASML Holding had €3.03b in debt in September 2019; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has €2.07b in cash leading to net debt of about €960.1m.
How Strong Is ASML Holding’s Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, ASML Holding had liabilities of €3.71b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €4.92b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €2.07b as well as receivables valued at €3.31b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €3.25b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded ASML Holding shares are worth a very impressive total of €101.7b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. Carrying virtually no net debt, ASML Holding has a very light debt load indeed.
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).
ASML Holding’s net debt is only 0.36 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 84.4 times over. So we’re pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. On the other hand, ASML Holding’s EBIT dived 18%, over the last year. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine ASML Holding’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you’re focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
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 most recent three years, ASML Holding recorded free cash flow worth 55% 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.
Both ASML Holding’s ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its net debt to EBITDA gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. But truth be told its EBIT growth rate had us nibbling our nails. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that ASML Holding is managing its debt quite well. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to the extra confidence that we’d gain if we knew that ASML Holding insiders have been buying shares: if you’re on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don’t even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
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