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.' 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 Digi International Inc. (NASDAQ:DGII) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Digi International's Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of September 2022, Digi International had US$271.4m of debt, up from US$45.8m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$34.9m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$236.5m.
How Healthy Is Digi International's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Digi International had liabilities of US$96.5m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$255.9m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$34.9m and US$54.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$263.3m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Of course, Digi International has a market capitalization of US$1.50b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
While we wouldn't worry about Digi International's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.6, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.6 times is a sign of high leverage. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. The good news is that Digi International grew its EBIT a smooth 77% over the last twelve months. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Digi International'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Digi International actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
The good news is that Digi International's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But we must concede we find its interest cover has the opposite effect. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Digi International is pretty sensible with its use of debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example Digi International 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.
Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.
Find out whether Digi International is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.View the Free Analysis
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
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.