Stock Analysis

We Think Zebra Technologies (NASDAQ:ZBRA) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

NasdaqGS:ZBRA
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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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We note that Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ:ZBRA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Zebra Technologies

What Is Zebra Technologies's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of April 2023, Zebra Technologies had US$2.10b of debt, up from US$1.10b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$109.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.99b.

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NasdaqGS:ZBRA Debt to Equity History May 22nd 2023

How Healthy Is Zebra Technologies' Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Zebra Technologies had liabilities of US$2.07b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$2.51b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$109.0m as well as receivables valued at US$766.0m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$3.71b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Zebra Technologies has a huge market capitalization of US$14.4b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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). 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).

Zebra Technologies's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.7 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 22.7 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. We would prefer to see some earnings growth, because that always helps diminish debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Zebra Technologies recorded free cash flow worth 79% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

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. 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. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example Zebra Technologies has 4 warning signs (and 1 which shouldn't be ignored) we think you should know about.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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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.