Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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 Gentherm Incorporated (NASDAQ:THRM) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. 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, 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.
What Is Gentherm's Debt?
As you can see below, Gentherm had US$107.3m of debt at June 2019, down from US$112.9m a year prior. However, it does have US$33.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$73.7m.
A Look At Gentherm's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Gentherm had liabilities of US$161.4m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$125.2m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$33.7m as well as receivables valued at US$171.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$81.3m.
Since publicly traded Gentherm shares are worth a total of US$1.24b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
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).
Gentherm has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.54. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 17.5 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Gentherm's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year, but that shouldn't be an issue given the it doesn't have a lot of debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Gentherm's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Gentherm's free cash flow amounted to 43% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
The good news is that Gentherm's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And we also thought its net debt to EBITDA was a positive. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Gentherm can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Gentherm insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you're in luck, since today we're sharing our list of reported insider transactions for free.
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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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.