Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 note that Steel Dynamics, Inc. (NASDAQ:STLD) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Steel Dynamics's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2020 Steel Dynamics had debt of US$3.10b, up from US$2.73b in one year. However, it does have US$1.37b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.73b.
A Look At Steel Dynamics' Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Steel Dynamics had liabilities of US$1.26b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$3.66b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.37b as well as receivables valued at US$971.9m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$2.58b.
Steel Dynamics has a very large market capitalization of US$10.8b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
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). 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).
Steel Dynamics has net debt of just 1.5 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 7.3 times the interest expense over the last year. But the bad news is that Steel Dynamics has seen its EBIT plunge 12% in the last twelve months. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. 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 Steel Dynamics 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. During the last three years, Steel Dynamics produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 53% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
Steel Dynamics's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better. There's no doubt that it has an adequate capacity to cover its interest expense with its EBIT. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Steel Dynamics'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. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for Steel Dynamics that you should be aware of.
If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
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