Stock Analysis

Allison Transmission Holdings (NYSE:ALSN) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

NYSE:ALSN
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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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We can see that Allison Transmission Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:ALSN) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for Allison Transmission Holdings

What Is Allison Transmission Holdings's Debt?

As you can see below, Allison Transmission Holdings had US$2.51b of debt, at March 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have US$350.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$2.16b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ALSN Debt to Equity History May 11th 2023

A Look At Allison Transmission Holdings' Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Allison Transmission Holdings had liabilities of US$526.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$3.32b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$350.0m as well as receivables valued at US$394.0m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$3.10b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$4.38b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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

With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.2, Allison Transmission Holdings uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the alluring interest cover (EBIT of 7.0 times interest expense) certainly does not do anything to dispel this impression. If Allison Transmission Holdings can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 17% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. 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 Allison Transmission 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. Over the most recent three years, Allison Transmission Holdings recorded free cash flow worth 71% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Both Allison Transmission Holdings's ability to to convert EBIT to free cash flow and its EBIT growth rate gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. Having said that, its level of total liabilities somewhat sensitizes us to potential future risks to the balance sheet. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Allison Transmission Holdings is managing its debt quite well. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. 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, we've discovered 3 warning signs for Allison Transmission Holdings (1 is significant!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Allison Transmission Holdings is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.