Stock Analysis

Here's Why Navigator Holdings (NYSE:NVGS) Has A Meaningful Debt Burden

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NYSE:NVGS
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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We can see that Navigator Holdings Ltd. (NYSE:NVGS) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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.

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What Is Navigator Holdings's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Navigator Holdings had US$787.8m of debt in September 2020, down from US$875.1m, one year before. However, it does have US$61.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$726.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:NVGS Debt to Equity History December 21st 2020

A Look At Navigator Holdings's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Navigator Holdings had liabilities of US$115.1m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$793.4m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$61.0m in cash and US$29.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$818.3m.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$623.3m, we think shareholders really should watch Navigator Holdings's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Weak interest cover of 0.88 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 6.6 hit our confidence in Navigator Holdings like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. On a lighter note, we note that Navigator Holdings grew its EBIT by 21% in the last year. If sustained, this growth should make that debt evaporate like a scarce drinking water during an unnaturally hot summer. 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're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into 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.

Our View

Navigator Holdings's interest cover and net debt to EBITDA definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Navigator Holdings's debt poses some risks to the business. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. 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 Navigator Holdings (1 doesn't sit too well with us!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

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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