Stock Analysis

Here's Why Dollar General (NYSE:DG) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

NYSE:DG
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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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Dollar General Corporation (NYSE:DG) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is Dollar General's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of February 2023 Dollar General had US$7.01b of debt, an increase on US$4.17b, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$381.6m, its net debt is less, at about US$6.63b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:DG Debt to Equity History April 18th 2023

A Look At Dollar General's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Dollar General had liabilities of US$5.89b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$17.7b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$381.6m in cash and US$135.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$23.0b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Dollar General has a very large market capitalization of US$46.8b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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). 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 Dollar General's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.6), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 15.8 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. The good news is that Dollar General has increased its EBIT by 3.7% over twelve months, which should ease any concerns about debt repayment. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Dollar General's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Dollar General recorded free cash flow of 49% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Dollar General was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Dollar General is managing its debt quite well. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Be aware that Dollar General is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , you should know about...

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.

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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.