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Is Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. Importantly, Callaway Golf Company (NYSE:ELY) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Callaway Golf

How Much Debt Does Callaway Golf Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 Callaway Golf had debt of US$650.0m, up from US$107.5m in one year. However, it also had US$81.5m in cash, and so its net debt is US$568.6m.

NYSE:ELY Historical Debt, October 16th 2019

How Healthy Is Callaway Golf's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Callaway Golf had liabilities of US$461.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$713.5m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$81.5m in cash and US$279.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$814.7m.

Callaway Golf has a market capitalization of US$1.93b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Callaway Golf has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.3 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 4.8 times. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Importantly, Callaway Golf's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 30% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. 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 Callaway Golf'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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Callaway Golf recorded free cash flow of 38% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

Mulling over Callaway Golf's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least its interest cover is not so bad. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Callaway Golf has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Callaway Golf insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.

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.