Is Select Medical Holdings (NYSE:SEM) A Risky Investment?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 11, 2022
NYSE:SEM
Source: Shutterstock

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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. Importantly, Select Medical Holdings Corporation (NYSE:SEM) 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. 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. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Select Medical Holdings

What Is Select Medical Holdings's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2021 Select Medical Holdings had debt of US$3.60b, up from US$3.39b in one year. On the flip side, it has US$74.3m in cash leading to net debt of about US$3.52b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:SEM Debt to Equity History April 11th 2022

How Strong Is Select Medical Holdings' Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Select Medical Holdings had liabilities of US$1.27b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$4.72b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$74.3m and US$913.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$5.01b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$3.20b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Select Medical Holdings would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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).

Select Medical Holdings's debt is 4.6 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.4 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. On a slightly more positive note, Select Medical Holdings grew its EBIT at 19% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Select Medical 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Select Medical Holdings generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 91% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Select Medical Holdings's level of total liabilities 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. We should also note that Healthcare industry companies like Select Medical Holdings commonly do use debt without problems. We think that Select Medical Holdings's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 4 warning signs for Select Medical Holdings (1 shouldn't be ignored) you should be aware of.

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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