Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We can see that Navigator Holdings Ltd. (NYSE:NVGS) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free 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, 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Navigator Holdings Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2021 Navigator Holdings had debt of US$928.4m, up from US$850.2m in one year. However, it does have US$124.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$804.4m.
How Strong Is Navigator Holdings' Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Navigator Holdings had liabilities of US$207.3m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$835.2m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$124.0m and US$60.7m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$857.9m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$1.01b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Navigator Holdings' use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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).
Weak interest cover of 1.4 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 6.1 hit our confidence in Navigator Holdings like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. The good news is that Navigator Holdings grew its EBIT a smooth 33% over the last twelve months. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Navigator Holdings can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Navigator Holdings actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.
We weren't impressed with Navigator Holdings's interest cover, and its net debt to EBITDA made us cautious. But like a ballerina ending on a perfect pirouette, it has not trouble converting EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Navigator Holdings's debt levels. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Navigator Holdings you should be aware of, and 1 of them is significant.
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.