Does Acuity Brands (NYSE:AYI) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

Simply Wall St
December 20, 2021
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David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' 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. As with many other companies Acuity Brands, Inc. (NYSE:AYI) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Acuity Brands

What Is Acuity Brands's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of August 2021, Acuity Brands had US$494.3m of debt, up from US$401.1m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$491.3m in cash, and so its net debt is US$3.00m.

NYSE:AYI Debt to Equity History December 20th 2021

How Healthy Is Acuity Brands' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Acuity Brands had liabilities of US$692.2m due within a year, and liabilities of US$838.4m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$491.3m in cash and US$571.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$467.5m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Of course, Acuity Brands has a market capitalization of US$7.04b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. But either way, Acuity Brands has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

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 debt at a measly 0.0057 times EBITDA and EBIT covering interest a whopping 18.4 times, it's clear that Acuity Brands is not a desperate borrower. So relative to past earnings, the debt load seems trivial. And we also note warmly that Acuity Brands grew its EBIT by 15% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Acuity Brands'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, 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. During the last three years, Acuity Brands generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 100% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Acuity Brands's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that Acuity Brands is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So we're not worried about the use of a little leverage on the balance sheet. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Acuity Brands, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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.

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