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. When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Leidos Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:LDOS) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. 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.
How Much Debt Does Leidos Holdings Carry?
As you can see below, Leidos Holdings had US$3.09b of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$660.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$2.43b.
A Look At Leidos Holdings's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Leidos Holdings had liabilities of US$2.25b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$3.72b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$660.0m as well as receivables valued at US$1.84b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$3.46b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn't so bad because Leidos Holdings is worth a massive US$12.4b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Leidos Holdings's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.4 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 5.6 times last year. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. One way Leidos Holdings could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 12%, as it did over the last year. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Leidos Holdings 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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Leidos Holdings generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 89% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Leidos Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And its EBIT growth rate is good too. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Leidos Holdings can handle its debt fairly comfortably. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Leidos Holdings, 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 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.