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 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. Importantly, FRP Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:FRPH) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is FRP Holdings's Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that FRP Holdings had US$88.9m in debt in June 2019; about the same as the year before. However, it also had US$56.2m in cash, and so its net debt is US$32.7m.
How Strong Is FRP Holdings's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, FRP Holdings had liabilities of US$2.29m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$141.9m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$56.2m and US$28.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$60.0m.
Of course, FRP Holdings has a market capitalization of US$475.0m, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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.
FRP Holdings's net debt is 2.9 times its EBITDA, which is a significant but still reasonable amount of leverage. However, its interest coverage of 1k is very high, suggesting that the interest expense may well rise in the future, even if there hasn't yet been a major cost attached to that debt. We also note that FRP Holdings improved its EBIT from a last year's loss to a positive US$4.7m. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since FRP Holdings will need earnings to service that debt. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept 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. During the last year, FRP Holdings burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
FRP Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and net debt to EBITDA definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But the good news is it seems to be able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT with ease. We think that FRP Holdings'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. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in FRP Holdings, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.
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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