Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. Importantly, AMC Networks Inc. (NASDAQ:AMCX) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does AMC Networks Carry?
As you can see below, AMC Networks had US$2.85b of debt at December 2020, down from US$3.10b a year prior. However, it does have US$888.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.96b.
How Strong Is AMC Networks' Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that AMC Networks had liabilities of US$878.5m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.41b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$888.5m and US$823.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$2.58b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$2.14b, we think shareholders really should watch AMC Networks'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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
AMC Networks's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.4 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 6.5 times last year. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. The bad news is that AMC Networks saw its EBIT decline by 13% over the last year. If that sort of decline is not arrested, then the managing its debt will be harder than selling broccoli flavoured ice-cream for a premium. 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 AMC Networks's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, AMC Networks produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 69% 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.
On the face of it, AMC Networks's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that AMC Networks's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 5 warning signs for AMC Networks you should know about.
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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