Stock Analysis

Daseke (NASDAQ:DSKE) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

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NasdaqCM:DSKE
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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.' 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. Importantly, Daseke, Inc. (NASDAQ:DSKE) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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.

View our latest analysis for Daseke

How Much Debt Does Daseke Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Daseke had US$641.4m in debt in December 2020; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$176.2m, its net debt is less, at about US$465.2m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqCM:DSKE Debt to Equity History March 26th 2021

How Healthy Is Daseke's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Daseke had liabilities of US$190.7m due within a year, and liabilities of US$791.1m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$176.2m in cash and US$156.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$649.6m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$500.7m, we think shareholders really should watch Daseke's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

While we wouldn't worry about Daseke's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.0, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.2 times is a sign of high leverage. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. The silver lining is that Daseke grew its EBIT by 1,254% last year, which nourishing like the idealism of youth. If it can keep walking that path it will be in a position to shed its debt with relative ease. 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 Daseke 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.

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. Happily for any shareholders, Daseke actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

We feel some trepidation about Daseke's difficulty interest cover, but we've got positives to focus on, too. To wit both its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and EBIT growth rate were encouraging signs. We think that Daseke's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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 learn about the 3 warning signs we've spotted with Daseke (including 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) .

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.

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