Stock Analysis

Here's Why Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ:ZBRA) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

NasdaqGS:ZBRA
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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.' 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. We note that Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ:ZBRA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Zebra Technologies

What Is Zebra Technologies's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Zebra Technologies had US$2.24b of debt, at July 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$108.0m in cash leading to net debt of about US$2.14b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:ZBRA Debt to Equity History September 23rd 2023

How Healthy Is Zebra Technologies' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Zebra Technologies had liabilities of US$1.77b due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.69b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$108.0m in cash and US$683.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$3.67b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Zebra Technologies has a huge market capitalization of US$11.7b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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.

We'd say that Zebra Technologies's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.9), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 16.8 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Unfortunately, Zebra Technologies saw its EBIT slide 2.5% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue on that decline then managing that debt will be difficult like delivering hot soup on a unicycle. 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 Zebra Technologies's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

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 most recent three years, Zebra Technologies recorded free cash flow worth 66% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Zebra Technologies was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to grow its EBIT. Considering this range of data points, we think Zebra Technologies is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with Zebra Technologies .

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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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.