Stock Analysis

IES Holdings (NASDAQ:IESC) Has A Rock Solid Balance Sheet

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NasdaqGM:IESC
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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. We note that IES Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:IESC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for IES Holdings

What Is IES Holdings's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2021, IES Holdings had US$39.7m of debt, up from US$217.0k a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$23.1m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$16.6m.

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NasdaqGM:IESC Debt to Equity History December 15th 2021

How Strong Is IES Holdings' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that IES Holdings had liabilities of US$311.6m due within a year, and liabilities of US$84.5m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$23.1m as well as receivables valued at US$371.4m due within 12 months. So these liquid assets roughly match the total liabilities.

This state of affairs indicates that IES Holdings' balance sheet looks quite solid, as its total liabilities are just about equal to its liquid assets. So it's very unlikely that the US$1.01b company is short on cash, but still worth keeping an eye on the balance sheet.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

IES Holdings has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.15. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 89.1 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. In addition to that, we're happy to report that IES Holdings has boosted its EBIT by 50%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since IES Holdings will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, IES Holdings recorded free cash flow worth 73% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that IES Holdings's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. It looks IES Holdings has no trouble standing on its own two feet, and it has no reason to fear its lenders. For investing nerds like us its balance sheet is almost charming. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example - IES Holdings has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

What are the risks and opportunities for IES Holdings?

IES Holdings, Inc. designs and installs integrated electrical and technology systems, and provides infrastructure products and services in the United States.

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Risks

  • Profit margins (1.4%) are lower than last year (4.3%)

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