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. Importantly, Allegion plc (NYSE:ALLE) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does Allegion Carry?
As you can see below, Allegion had US$1.43b of debt, at September 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$503.9m, its net debt is less, at about US$927.0m.
A Look At Allegion's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Allegion had liabilities of US$793.9m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.46b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$503.9m and US$307.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$1.44b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Since publicly traded Allegion shares are worth a very impressive total of US$12.0b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
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.
Allegion has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.4. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 12.5 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. And we also note warmly that Allegion grew its EBIT by 13% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Allegion 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 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 three years, Allegion produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 80% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Happily, Allegion's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Zooming out, Allegion seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Allegion .
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.
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