Is FedEx (NYSE:FDX) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
September 02, 2019
NYSE:FDX
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.' 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 can see that FedEx Corporation (NYSE:FDX) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for FedEx

What Is FedEx's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of May 2019, FedEx had US$17.6b of debt, up from US$16.6b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has US$2.32b in cash leading to net debt of about US$15.3b.

NYSE:FDX Historical Debt, September 2nd 2019
NYSE:FDX Historical Debt, September 2nd 2019

How Strong Is FedEx's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that FedEx had liabilities of US$9.01b due within a year, and liabilities of US$27.6b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$2.32b as well as receivables valued at US$9.12b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$25.2b.

This deficit is considerable relative to its very significant market capitalization of US$41.4b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on FedEx's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would 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).

FedEx's debt is 3.1 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.0 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Worse, FedEx's EBIT was down 71% over the last year. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine FedEx'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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, FedEx recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is far more risky for companies with unreliable free cash flow, so shareholders should be hoping that the past expenditure will produce free cash flow in the future.

Our View

On the face of it, FedEx's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. And furthermore, its net debt to EBITDA also fails to instill confidence. Overall, it seems to us that FedEx's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. Given our concerns about FedEx's debt levels, it seems only prudent to check if insiders have been ditching the stock.

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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.

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