Stock Analysis

AerCap Holdings (NYSE:AER) Use Of Debt Could Be Considered Risky

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NYSE:AER
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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 AerCap Holdings N.V. (NYSE:AER) does have debt on its balance sheet. 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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for AerCap Holdings

How Much Debt Does AerCap Holdings Carry?

As you can see below, AerCap Holdings had US$27.6b of debt at September 2021, down from US$31.3b a year prior. However, it also had US$1.32b in cash, and so its net debt is US$26.3b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:AER Debt to Equity History December 22nd 2021

How Strong Is AerCap Holdings' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, AerCap Holdings had liabilities of US$2.16b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$29.4b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.32b and US$2.12b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$28.1b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$15.0b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, AerCap Holdings would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Weak interest cover of 1.8 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 12.5 hit our confidence in AerCap Holdings like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Another concern for investors might be that AerCap Holdings's EBIT fell 16% in the last year. If things keep going like that, handling the debt will about as easy as bundling an angry house cat into its travel box. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if AerCap Holdings 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Considering the last three years, AerCap Holdings actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.

Our View

On the face of it, AerCap Holdings's net debt to EBITDA 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. And even its interest cover fails to inspire much confidence. It looks to us like AerCap Holdings carries a significant balance sheet burden. If you play with fire you risk getting burnt, so we'd probably give this stock a wide berth. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 3 warning signs with AerCap Holdings (at least 2 which are a bit unpleasant) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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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