Stock Analysis

Here's Why Ford Motor (NYSE:F) Is Weighed Down By Its Debt Load

NYSE:F
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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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Ford Motor

What Is Ford Motor's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Ford Motor had US$138.4b in debt in December 2022; about the same as the year before. However, it also had US$32.2b in cash, and so its net debt is US$106.2b.

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NYSE:F Debt to Equity History March 7th 2023

How Healthy Is Ford Motor's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Ford Motor had liabilities of US$96.9b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$115.9b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$32.2b as well as receivables valued at US$4.58b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$176.0b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$51.7b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Ford Motor 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

As it happens Ford Motor has a fairly concerning net debt to EBITDA ratio of 7.5 but very strong interest coverage of 11.9. So either it has access to very cheap long term debt or that interest expense is going to grow! Importantly, Ford Motor's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 27% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Ford Motor'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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last two years, Ford Motor produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 53% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

On the face of it, Ford Motor's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at covering its interest expense with its EBIT; that's encouraging. We're quite clear that we consider Ford Motor to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. 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. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Ford Motor you should be aware of.

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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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.