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.' 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. As with many other companies Ryerson Holding Corporation (NYSE:RYI) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Ryerson Holding's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Ryerson Holding had debt of US$640.7m at the end of December 2021, a reduction from US$744.0m over a year. However, it also had US$51.2m in cash, and so its net debt is US$589.5m.
A Look At Ryerson Holding's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Ryerson Holding had liabilities of US$751.0m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.07b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$51.2m and US$652.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.12b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$1.65b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Ryerson Holding's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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.
Ryerson Holding has net debt of just 1.2 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And it boasts interest cover of 8.6 times, which is more than adequate. Even more impressive was the fact that Ryerson Holding grew its EBIT by 524% over twelve months. If maintained that growth will make the debt even more manageable in the years ahead. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Ryerson Holding's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Ryerson Holding produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 54% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Ryerson Holding's EBIT growth rate suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its level of total liabilities. All these things considered, it appears that Ryerson Holding 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. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 4 warning signs for Ryerson Holding (of which 2 don't sit too well with us!) you should know about.
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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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.