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. Importantly, H&R Block, Inc. (NYSE:HRB) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is H&R Block's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at March 2022 H&R Block had debt of US$1.99b, up from US$1.49b in one year. However, it does have US$1.04b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$944.2m.
How Healthy Is H&R Block's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that H&R Block had liabilities of US$1.69b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$2.04b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.04b as well as receivables valued at US$602.0m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$2.09b.
H&R Block has a market capitalization of US$4.53b, 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.
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.
H&R Block has net debt of just 1.2 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 8.9 times the interest expense over the last year. While H&R Block 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 H&R Block'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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, H&R Block's free cash flow amounted to 47% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
Both H&R Block's ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its net debt to EBITDA gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. On the other hand, its level of total liabilities makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about H&R Block's use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 3 warning signs for H&R Block (of which 2 are concerning!) you should know about.
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.