Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 note that Eagle Bulk Shipping Inc. (NASDAQ:EGLE) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Eagle Bulk Shipping's Debt?
As you can see below, Eagle Bulk Shipping had US$332.4m of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$38.6m in cash leading to net debt of about US$293.8m.
How Strong Is Eagle Bulk Shipping's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Eagle Bulk Shipping had liabilities of US$73.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$314.5m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$38.6m and US$17.7m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$332.0m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$346.9m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Eagle Bulk Shipping's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Eagle Bulk Shipping shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (5.2), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.93 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. On the other hand, Eagle Bulk Shipping grew its EBIT by 21% in the last year. If it can maintain that kind of improvement, its debt load will begin to melt away like glaciers in a warming world. 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 Eagle Bulk Shipping'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last two years, Eagle Bulk Shipping burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
On the face of it, Eagle Bulk Shipping's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Eagle Bulk Shipping's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Eagle Bulk Shipping's earnings per share history for free.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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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.