Stock Analysis

Ducommun (NYSE:DCO) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

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NYSE:DCO
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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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. Importantly, Ducommun Incorporated (NYSE:DCO) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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.

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What Is Ducommun's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2020 Ducommun had debt of US$347.3m, up from US$224.9m in one year. However, it also had US$74.6m in cash, and so its net debt is US$272.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:DCO Debt to Equity History December 28th 2020

How Strong Is Ducommun's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Ducommun had liabilities of US$137.9m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$396.0m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$74.6m as well as receivables valued at US$203.5m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$255.8m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit isn't so bad because Ducommun is worth US$626.0m, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Ducommun's debt is 3.4 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.2 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Even more troubling is the fact that Ducommun actually let its EBIT decrease by 2.2% over the last year. If that earnings trend continues the company will face an uphill battle to pay off its debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Ducommun 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Ducommun's free cash flow amounted to 43% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

While Ducommun's net debt to EBITDA makes us cautious about it, its track record of covering its interest expense with its EBIT is no better. But its not so bad at converting EBIT to free cash flow. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Ducommun's debt poses some risks to the business. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. 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. Be aware that Ducommun is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those doesn't sit too well with us...

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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What are the risks and opportunities for Ducommun?

Ducommun Incorporated provides engineering and manufacturing products and services primarily to the aerospace and defense, industrial, medical, and other industries in the United States.

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Rewards

  • Trading at 25.6% below our estimate of its fair value

  • Earnings are forecast to grow 2.88% per year

  • Earnings grew by 283.3% over the past year

Risks

  • Debt is not well covered by operating cash flow

  • High level of non-cash earnings

  • Significant insider selling over the past 3 months

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