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Is American Vanguard (NYSE:AVD) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

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. As with many other companies American Vanguard Corporation (NYSE:AVD) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for American Vanguard

How Much Debt Does American Vanguard Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 American Vanguard had debt of US$164.6m, up from US$74.3m in one year. On the flip side, it has US$6.31m in cash leading to net debt of about US$158.3m.

NYSE:AVD Historical Debt, August 13th 2019

How Healthy Is American Vanguard's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that American Vanguard had liabilities of US$129.3m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$202.7m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$6.31m in cash and US$131.5m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$194.2m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since American Vanguard has a market capitalization of US$405.3m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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).

American Vanguard's debt is 2.7 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 6.2 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. One way American Vanguard could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but conitinues to grow EBIT at around 16%, as it did over the last year. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if American Vanguard can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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. Looking at the most recent three years, American Vanguard recorded free cash flow of 31% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

On our analysis American Vanguard's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to convert EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about American Vanguard's debt levels. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in American Vanguard, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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 editorial-team@simplywallst.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.