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Here's Why Astec Industries (NASDAQ:ASTE) Can Afford Some Debt

Simply Wall St

Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about. 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 Astec Industries, Inc. (NASDAQ:ASTE) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Astec Industries

What Is Astec Industries's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, Astec Industries had US$29.1m of debt, up from US$2.37m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$26.1m in cash, and so its net debt is US$3.01m.

NasdaqGS:ASTE Historical Debt, October 5th 2019

How Strong Is Astec Industries's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Astec Industries had liabilities of US$173.9m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$54.0m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$26.1m in cash and US$139.2m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$62.6m.

Of course, Astec Industries has a market capitalization of US$673.2m, so these liabilities are probably manageable. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse. But either way, Astec Industries has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load! When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Astec Industries 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.

Over 12 months, Astec Industries reported revenue of US$1.2b, which is a gain of 3.6%, although it did not report any earnings before interest and tax. That rate of growth is a bit slow for our taste, but it takes all types to make a world.

Caveat Emptor

Over the last twelve months Astec Industries produced an earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) loss. Indeed, it lost US$473k at the EBIT level. When we look at that and recall the liabilities on its balance sheet, relative to cash, it seems unwise to us for the company to have any debt. Quite frankly we think the balance sheet is far from match-fit, although it could be improved with time. Another cause for caution is that is bled US$33m in negative free cash flow over the last twelve months. So to be blunt we think it is risky. When I consider a company to be a bit risky, I think it is responsible to check out whether insiders have been reporting any share sales. Luckily, you can click here ito see our graphic depicting Astec Industries insider transactions.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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.