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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We can see that KB Home (NYSE:KBH) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is KB Home's Debt?
As you can see below, KB Home had US$1.85b of debt at May 2019, down from US$2.35b a year prior. However, it also had US$178.9m in cash, and so its net debt is US$1.68b.
How Healthy Is KB Home's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, KB Home had liabilities of US$1.13b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.60b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$178.9m in cash and US$287.2m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$2.26b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$2.67b. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe 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). 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).
KB Home has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.5, which signals significant debt, but is still pretty reasonable for most types of business. But its EBIT was about 1k times its interest expense, implying the company isn't really paying full freight on that debt. Even if not sustainable, that is a good sign. Notably KB Home's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year. Ideally it can diminish its debt load by kick-starting earnings growth. 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 KB Home 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, KB Home generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 92% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Both KB Home's ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. In contrast, our confidence was undermined by its apparent struggle handle its debt, based on its EBITDA,. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about KB Home's debt levels. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of KB Home's earnings per share history 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.