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Is American Woodmark (NASDAQ:AMWD) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, American Woodmark Corporation (NASDAQ:AMWD) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. 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.

See our latest analysis for American Woodmark

What Is American Woodmark's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that American Woodmark had debt of US$643.5m at the end of July 2019, a reduction from US$751.6m over a year. However, it does have US$71.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$572.0m.

NasdaqGS:AMWD Historical Debt, October 15th 2019

How Healthy Is American Woodmark's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that American Woodmark had liabilities of US$180.4m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$791.8m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$71.5m as well as receivables valued at US$120.0m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$780.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit isn't so bad because American Woodmark is worth US$1.60b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

American Woodmark has net debt worth 2.4 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 4.2 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. We saw American Woodmark grow its EBIT by 4.2% in the last twelve months. Whilst that hardly knocks our socks off it is a positive when it comes to debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine American Woodmark'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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, American Woodmark produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 72% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for American Woodmark was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its interest cover makes us a little nervous about its debt. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about American Woodmark'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. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in American Woodmark, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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.