Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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. As with many other companies Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Rite Aid's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Rite Aid had debt of US$3.51b at the end of August 2020, a reduction from US$3.83b over a year. However, it does have US$92.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$3.41b.
How Strong Is Rite Aid's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Rite Aid had liabilities of US$2.58b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$6.44b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$92.7m in cash and US$1.92b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$7.00b.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$705.5m 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 definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Rite Aid 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.
Weak interest cover of 1.5 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.4 hit our confidence in Rite Aid like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. The silver lining is that Rite Aid grew its EBIT by 247% last year, which nourishing like the idealism of youth. If it can keep walking that path it will be in a position to shed its debt with relative ease. 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 Rite Aid'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Rite Aid saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
On the face of it, Rite Aid's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Rite Aid's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for Rite Aid (1 is significant!) that you should be aware of before investing here.
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. 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.
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