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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. Importantly, EnerSys (NYSE:ENS) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is EnerSys's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that EnerSys had US$1.09b in debt in January 2021; about the same as the year before. However, it also had US$488.7m in cash, and so its net debt is US$605.8m.
How Strong Is EnerSys' Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that EnerSys had liabilities of US$605.6m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$1.34b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$488.7m as well as receivables valued at US$547.5m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$907.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since EnerSys has a market capitalization of US$4.24b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
EnerSys's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 1.8 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 5.8 times last year. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. Unfortunately, EnerSys's EBIT flopped 11% over the last four quarters. If earnings continue to decline at that rate then handling the debt will be more difficult than taking three children under 5 to a fancy pants restaurant. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine EnerSys'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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs 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, EnerSys recorded free cash flow worth 73% 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.
On our analysis EnerSys's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its EBIT growth rate makes us a little nervous about its debt. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that EnerSys 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. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for EnerSys that you should be aware of.
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
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