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 note that Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE:RLGY) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. 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.
How Much Debt Does Realogy Holdings Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Realogy Holdings had debt of US$3.45b at the end of September 2020, a reduction from US$3.81b over a year. However, it does have US$379.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$3.07b.
How Healthy Is Realogy Holdings' Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Realogy Holdings had liabilities of US$1.15b due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.17b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$379.0m in cash and US$109.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$4.83b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit casts a shadow over the US$1.92b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. 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). 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).
Weak interest cover of 1.5 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.7 hit our confidence in Realogy Holdings like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. Given the debt load, it's hardly ideal that Realogy Holdings's EBIT was pretty flat over the last twelve months. 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 want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Realogy Holdings recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 92% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
To be frank both Realogy Holdings's interest cover and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Realogy Holdings has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. 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. For example Realogy Holdings has 3 warning signs (and 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) we think you should know about.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
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