Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that '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. Importantly, Anywhere Real Estate Inc. (NYSE:HOUS) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Anywhere Real Estate's Debt?
As you can see below, Anywhere Real Estate had US$3.02b of debt at March 2022, down from US$3.37b a year prior. However, it also had US$306.0m in cash, and so its net debt is US$2.71b.
How Strong Is Anywhere Real Estate's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Anywhere Real Estate had liabilities of US$881.0m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.82b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$306.0m and US$299.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$4.10b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$1.17b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Anywhere Real Estate would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
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).
Anywhere Real Estate's debt is 3.4 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.5 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. However, one redeeming factor is that Anywhere Real Estate grew its EBIT at 18% over the last 12 months, boosting its ability to handle 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 Anywhere Real Estate can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Anywhere Real Estate recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 87% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Anywhere Real Estate's level of total liabilities and interest cover 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. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Anywhere Real Estate's debt poses some risks to the business. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Anywhere Real Estate you should be aware of, and 1 of them is concerning.
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
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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.