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 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. As with many other companies FedEx Corporation (NYSE:FDX) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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.
What Is FedEx's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that FedEx had US$19.8b in debt in May 2022; about the same as the year before. However, it does have US$6.90b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$12.9b.
A Look At FedEx's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, FedEx had liabilities of US$14.3b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$46.8b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$6.90b as well as receivables valued at US$11.9b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$42.3b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This is a mountain of leverage even relative to its gargantuan market capitalization of US$53.1b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
FedEx has net debt of just 1.3 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And it boasts interest cover of 9.4 times, which is more than adequate. In fact FedEx's saving grace is its low debt levels, because its EBIT has tanked 24% in the last twelve months. Falling earnings (if the trend continues) could eventually make even modest debt quite risky. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if FedEx 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. In the last three years, FedEx's free cash flow amounted to 39% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
Mulling over FedEx's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that FedEx's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. 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. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for FedEx that you should be aware of.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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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.
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