Stock Analysis

Is Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ:ZBRA) A Risky Investment?

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.' 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. As with many other companies Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ:ZBRA) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Zebra Technologies

How Much Debt Does Zebra Technologies Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of July 2022, Zebra Technologies had US$2.16b of debt, up from US$1.02b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$98.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$2.06b.

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NasdaqGS:ZBRA Debt to Equity History October 31st 2022

How Strong Is Zebra Technologies' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Zebra Technologies had liabilities of US$2.11b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$2.76b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$98.0m as well as receivables valued at US$945.0m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$3.83b.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Zebra Technologies has a huge market capitalization of US$15.0b, 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.

Zebra Technologies's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.8 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 1k times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Notably Zebra Technologies's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year. Ideally it can diminish its debt load by kick-starting earnings growth. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Zebra Technologies 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 clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Zebra Technologies recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 97% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Happily, Zebra Technologies's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Zebra Technologies takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Be aware that Zebra Technologies is showing 4 warning signs in our investment analysis , you should know about...

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Zebra Technologies 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.

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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.