Stock Analysis

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

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NYSE:AER
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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, AerCap Holdings N.V. (NYSE:AER) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is AerCap Holdings's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at March 2022 AerCap Holdings had debt of US$48.9b, up from US$28.7b in one year. However, it does have US$1.25b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$47.7b.

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NYSE:AER Debt to Equity History July 16th 2022

How Strong Is AerCap Holdings' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, AerCap Holdings had liabilities of US$3.43b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$52.1b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$1.25b in cash and US$4.19b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$50.0b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$9.60b 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 definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, AerCap Holdings would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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.

AerCap Holdings shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (19.1), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.9 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. On a slightly more positive note, AerCap Holdings grew its EBIT at 11% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage debt. 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 AerCap 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, AerCap Holdings recorded free cash flow of 25% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

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. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. We're quite clear that we consider AerCap Holdings 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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example - AerCap Holdings has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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