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. Importantly, Range Resources Corporation (NYSE:RRC) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Range Resources Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Range Resources had US$3.79b of debt in June 2019, down from US$4.21b, one year before. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.
How Healthy Is Range Resources's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Range Resources had liabilities of US$613.6m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$4.93b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$507.0k in cash and US$289.3m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$5.26b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$896.8m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet." So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt After all, Range Resources would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
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.
While we wouldn't worry about Range Resources's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.9, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.2 times is a sign of high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. One redeeming factor for Range Resources is that it turned last year's EBIT loss into a gain of US$257m, over the last twelve months. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Range Resources'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 it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Looking at the most recent year, Range Resources recorded free cash flow of 31% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
To be frank both Range Resources's interest cover and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. Having said that, its ability to grow its EBIT isn't such a worry. Overall, it seems to us that Range Resources's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. Given our concerns about Range Resources's debt levels, it seems only prudent to check if insiders have been ditching the stock.
At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.
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