Stock Analysis

Here's Why Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ:ATSG) Has A Meaningful Debt Burden

  •  Updated
NasdaqGS:ATSG
Source: Shutterstock

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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Air Transport Services Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATSG) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. 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.

See our latest analysis for Air Transport Services Group

How Much Debt Does Air Transport Services Group Carry?

As you can see below, Air Transport Services Group had US$1.27b of debt at March 2022, down from US$1.51b a year prior. However, it does have US$35.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.24b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:ATSG Debt to Equity History July 20th 2022

A Look At Air Transport Services Group's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Air Transport Services Group had liabilities of US$317.5m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$1.62b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$35.5m as well as receivables valued at US$216.7m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$1.68b.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$2.20b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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).

Air Transport Services Group's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.1 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 5.2 times last year. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It is well worth noting that Air Transport Services Group's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 41% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Air Transport Services Group'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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Air Transport Services Group created free cash flow amounting to 4.1% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.

Our View

Air Transport Services Group's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and level of total liabilities definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But its EBIT growth rate tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Air Transport Services Group is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Air Transport Services Group you should be aware of.

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 Air Transport Services Group 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

About NasdaqGS:ATSG

Air Transport Services Group

Air Transport Services Group, Inc., together with its subsidiaries, provides aircraft leasing and air cargo transportation and related services in the United States and internationally.

The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.

Analysis AreaScore (0-6)
Valuation3
Future Growth1
Past Performance2
Financial Health4
Dividends0

Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.

Adequate balance sheet and fair value.