We Think USA Truck (NASDAQ:USAK) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
September 28, 2021
NasdaqGS:USAK
Source: Shutterstock

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. We note that USA Truck, Inc. (NASDAQ:USAK) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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 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, 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 USA Truck

What Is USA Truck's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that USA Truck had US$68.7m of debt in June 2021, down from US$84.5m, one year before. However, it does have US$1.90m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$66.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:USAK Debt to Equity History September 28th 2021

How Healthy Is USA Truck's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that USA Truck had liabilities of US$75.9m due within a year, and liabilities of US$174.2m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.90m as well as receivables valued at US$84.3m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$163.9m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's US$131.9m market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 0.99 and interest cover of 5.8 times, it seems to us that USA Truck is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. So we'd recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. It was also good to see that despite losing money on the EBIT line last year, USA Truck turned things around in the last 12 months, delivering and EBIT of US$27m. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine USA Truck'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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Over the last year, USA Truck actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

USA Truck's level of total liabilities and EBIT growth rate definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that USA Truck 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. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for USA Truck that you should be aware of before investing here.

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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