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Is CSX (NASDAQ:CSX) A Risky Investment?
Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. Importantly, CSX Corporation (NASDAQ:CSX) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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 common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.
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What Is CSX's Net Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2022 CSX had US$18.1b of debt, an increase on US$16.3b, over one year. However, it does have US$2.09b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$16.0b.
A Look At CSX's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that CSX had liabilities of US$2.47b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$26.8b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$2.09b in cash and US$1.31b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$25.9b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since CSX has a huge market capitalization of US$59.8b, 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 use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
CSX's net debt of 2.2 times EBITDA suggests graceful use of debt. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 8.4 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. If CSX can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 13% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine CSX'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. During the last three years, CSX produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 61% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
Both CSX's ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. Having said that, its level of total liabilities somewhat sensitizes us to potential future risks to the balance sheet. Considering this range of data points, we think CSX 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. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for CSX you should know about.
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.
CSX Corporation, together with its subsidiaries, provides rail-based freight transportation services.
Average dividend payer with mediocre balance sheet.