Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 can see that Leidos Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:LDOS) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Leidos Holdings's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at October 2021 Leidos Holdings had debt of US$5.17b, up from US$4.64b in one year. However, it does have US$587.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$4.58b.
How Healthy Is Leidos Holdings' Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Leidos Holdings had liabilities of US$3.35b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$5.77b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$587.0m and US$2.29b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$6.24b.
Leidos Holdings has a very large market capitalization of US$11.9b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Leidos Holdings's debt is 3.0 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 6.5 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. We note that Leidos Holdings grew its EBIT by 20% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. 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 Leidos Holdings'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. 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, Leidos Holdings generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 95% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Leidos Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its net debt to EBITDA. All these things considered, it appears that Leidos Holdings can comfortably handle its current debt levels. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 2 warning signs with Leidos Holdings (at least 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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.
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.