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 Axalta Coating Systems Ltd. (NYSE:AXTA) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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 Axalta Coating Systems's Debt?
As you can see below, Axalta Coating Systems had US$3.88b of debt at September 2021, down from US$4.13b a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$627.7m, its net debt is less, at about US$3.25b.
How Strong Is Axalta Coating Systems' Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Axalta Coating Systems had liabilities of US$1.28b due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.47b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$627.7m as well as receivables valued at US$1.09b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$4.03b.
Axalta Coating Systems has a market capitalization of US$7.17b, 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 measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Axalta Coating Systems's debt is 3.6 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.9 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Looking on the bright side, Axalta Coating Systems boosted its EBIT by a silky 54% in the last year. Like a mother's loving embrace of a newborn that sort of growth builds resilience, putting the company in a stronger position to manage its 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 Axalta Coating Systems 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Axalta Coating Systems generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 83% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
The good news is that Axalta Coating Systems's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its net debt to EBITDA. All these things considered, it appears that Axalta Coating Systems can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should learn about the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Axalta Coating Systems (including 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) .
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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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.