David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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 can see that Arch Resources, Inc. (NYSE:ARCH) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. 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. 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 Arch Resources's Net Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2021 Arch Resources had US$562.5m of debt, an increase on US$508.3m, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$339.7m, its net debt is less, at about US$222.8m.
A Look At Arch Resources' Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Arch Resources had liabilities of US$522.3m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$911.0m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$339.7m and US$332.6m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$761.1m.
This deficit isn't so bad because Arch Resources is worth US$2.19b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up 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 use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Arch Resources's net debt is only 0.41 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 17.1 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Although Arch Resources made a loss at the EBIT level, last year, it was also good to see that it generated US$400m in EBIT over the last twelve months. 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 Arch Resources'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.
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 the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Over the last year, Arch Resources recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.
Both Arch Resources'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. In contrast, our confidence was undermined by its apparent struggle to convert EBIT to free cash flow. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Arch Resources's use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 4 warning signs for Arch Resources you should be aware of, and 2 of them don't sit too well with us.
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.