Stock Analysis

Here's Why Allison Transmission Holdings (NYSE:ALSN) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

NYSE:ALSN
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Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, '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. As with many other companies Allison Transmission Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:ALSN) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own 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 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt 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 June 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it also had US$360.0m in cash, and so its net debt is US$2.15b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ALSN Debt to Equity History September 3rd 2023

A Look At Allison Transmission Holdings' Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Allison Transmission Holdings had liabilities of US$497.0m due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.30b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$360.0m in cash and US$381.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$3.06b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Allison Transmission Holdings has a market capitalization of US$5.46b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.1, Allison Transmission Holdings uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 7.6 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. We note that Allison Transmission Holdings grew its EBIT by 22% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Allison Transmission Holdings's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Allison Transmission Holdings produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 68% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that Allison Transmission Holdings's demonstrated ability to grow its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its level of total liabilities. All these things considered, it appears that Allison Transmission Holdings can comfortably handle its current debt levels. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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. Be aware that Allison Transmission Holdings is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those doesn't sit too well with us...

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.

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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.