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 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. We can see that CSX Corporation (NASDAQ:CSX) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is CSX's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 CSX had US$15.8b of debt, an increase on US$13.8b, over one year. However, it does have US$1.73b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$14.0b.
A Look At CSX's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that CSX had liabilities of US$2.05b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$23.6b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$1.73b in cash and US$1.11b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$22.8b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn't so bad because CSX is worth a massive US$53.5b, 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 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.
With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.2, CSX uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the alluring interest cover (EBIT of 7.6 times interest expense) certainly does not do anything to dispel this impression. We note that CSX grew its EBIT by 21% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. 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 CSX can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, CSX recorded free cash flow of 46% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
On our analysis CSX's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think CSX is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in CSX, 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.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.