Stock Analysis

Is Allison Transmission Holdings (NYSE:ALSN) A Risky Investment?

NYSE:ALSN
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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 Allison Transmission Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:ALSN) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Allison Transmission Holdings

What Is Allison Transmission Holdings's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Allison Transmission Holdings had US$2.51b of debt, at September 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$186.0m in cash leading to net debt of about US$2.32b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ALSN Debt to Equity History January 25th 2023

A Look At Allison Transmission Holdings' Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Allison Transmission Holdings had liabilities of US$487.0m due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.34b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$186.0m and US$374.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$3.27b.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$4.04b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Allison Transmission Holdings' use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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.

Allison Transmission Holdings has net debt worth 2.5 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 6.6 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. We note that Allison Transmission Holdings grew its EBIT by 21% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Allison Transmission Holdings recorded free cash flow worth 69% 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 grow its EBIT and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow 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. Considering this range of data points, we think Allison Transmission Holdings is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Allison Transmission Holdings you should be aware of, and 1 of them makes us a bit uncomfortable.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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.