Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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, Allegion plc (NYSE:ALLE) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Allegion's Net Debt?
As you can see below, Allegion had US$1.43b of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$157.8m in cash leading to net debt of about US$1.27b.
How Strong Is Allegion's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Allegion had liabilities of US$517.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.67b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$157.8m and US$380.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$1.65b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Since publicly traded Allegion shares are worth a total of US$9.48b, 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.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). 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).
Allegion's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.1 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 10.1 times, makes us even more comfortable. We saw Allegion grow its EBIT by 7.6% in the last twelve months. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Allegion'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.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Allegion produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 69% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Allegion's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Allegion is pretty sensible with its use of debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Allegion 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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