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 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. We note that ADT Inc. (NYSE:ADT) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
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. 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. 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.
How Much Debt Does ADT Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that ADT had US$9.87b in debt in September 2019; about the same as the year before. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn’t have much cash.
How Healthy Is ADT’s Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that ADT had liabilities of US$1.47b due within a year, and liabilities of US$11.8b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$156.2m in cash and US$284.9m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$12.8b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$5.20b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we’d watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, ADT would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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.
While ADT’s debt to EBITDA ratio (4.2) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 0.51, suggesting high leverage. In large part that’s due to the company’s significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Another concern for investors might be that ADT’s EBIT fell 18% in the last year. If that’s the way things keep going handling the debt load will be like delivering hot coffees on a pogo stick. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if ADT 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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, ADT recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 83% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we’d usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
To be frank both ADT’s interest cover and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it’s pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that’s encouraging. We’re quite clear that we consider ADT to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we’re pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We’ve spotted 4 warning signs for ADT you should be aware of.
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.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.
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