The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. Importantly, Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE:RLGY) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
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 frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest 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.
How Much Debt Does Realogy Holdings Carry?
As you can see below, Realogy Holdings had US$3.59b of debt at June 2021, down from US$4.04b a year prior. However, it also had US$859.0m in cash, and so its net debt is US$2.73b.
How Healthy Is Realogy Holdings' Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Realogy Holdings had liabilities of US$979.0m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.42b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$859.0m in cash and US$351.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$4.19b.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$2.35b 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'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Realogy Holdings would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Realogy Holdings has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.2 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 3.7 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. However, it should be some comfort for shareholders to recall that Realogy Holdings actually grew its EBIT by a hefty 117%, over the last 12 months. If that earnings trend continues it will make its debt load much more manageable in the future. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Realogy Holdings 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Realogy Holdings actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
While Realogy Holdings's level of total liabilities has us nervous. For example, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and EBIT growth rate give us some confidence in its ability to manage its debt. We think that Realogy Holdings's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. 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 2 warning signs for Realogy Holdings 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.
What are the risks and opportunities for Anywhere Real Estate?
Trading at 84.8% below our estimate of its fair value
Earnings are forecast to decline by an average of 2.2% per year for the next 3 years
Debt is not well covered by operating cash flow
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.
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