Stock Analysis

Federal Signal (NYSE:FSS) Has A Pretty Healthy Balance Sheet

NYSE:FSS
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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, Federal Signal Corporation (NYSE:FSS) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Federal Signal

What Is Federal Signal's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2022, Federal Signal had US$324.5m of debt, up from US$223.2m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has US$31.2m in cash leading to net debt of about US$293.3m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:FSS Debt to Equity History August 17th 2022

How Healthy Is Federal Signal's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Federal Signal had liabilities of US$179.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$455.0m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$31.2m as well as receivables valued at US$169.9m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$433.6m.

Of course, Federal Signal has a market capitalization of US$2.61b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

We'd say that Federal Signal's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.6), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its strong interest cover of 24.7 times, makes us even more comfortable. While Federal Signal doesn't seem to have gained much on the EBIT line, at least earnings remain stable for now. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Federal Signal'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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. In the last three years, Federal Signal's free cash flow amounted to 49% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Federal Signal was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. 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 Federal Signal is managing its debt quite well. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Federal Signal's earnings per share history for free.

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.

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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.