U.S. Markets closed

Is BorgWarner (NYSE:BWA) Using Too Much Debt?

Simply Wall St

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. We can see that BorgWarner Inc. (NYSE:BWA) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for BorgWarner

What Is BorgWarner's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that BorgWarner had US$2.10b in debt in June 2019; about the same as the year before. However, it also had US$710.0m in cash, and so its net debt is US$1.39b.

NYSE:BWA Historical Debt, August 2nd 2019

How Healthy Is BorgWarner's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that BorgWarner had liabilities of US$2.31b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.42b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$710.0m as well as receivables valued at US$2.10b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$2.92b.

BorgWarner has a market capitalization of US$7.49b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without 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).

BorgWarner's net debt is only 0.87 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 21.0 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. But the bad news is that BorgWarner has seen its EBIT plunge 10% in the last twelve months. If that rate of decline in earnings continues, the company could find itself in a tight spot. 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 BorgWarner'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 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. Over the most recent three years, BorgWarner recorded free cash flow worth 50% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

On our analysis BorgWarner's interest cover 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 example, its EBIT growth rate makes us a little nervous about its debt. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about BorgWarner's use of debt. 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. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that BorgWarner 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.

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.