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Here's Why Columbus McKinnon (NASDAQ:CMCO) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

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. As with many other companies Columbus McKinnon Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCO) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Columbus McKinnon

How Much Debt Does Columbus McKinnon Carry?

As you can see below, Columbus McKinnon had US$308.9m of debt at June 2019, down from US$382.2m a year prior. On the flip side, it has US$55.7m in cash leading to net debt of about US$253.1m.

NasdaqGS:CMCO Historical Debt, November 5th 2019

How Healthy Is Columbus McKinnon's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Columbus McKinnon had liabilities of US$205.0m due within a year, and liabilities of US$433.2m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$55.7m and US$135.5m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$447.0m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Columbus McKinnon has a market capitalization of US$920.1m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

Columbus McKinnon's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.0 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 6.3 times last year. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. One way Columbus McKinnon could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 16%, as it did over the last year. 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 Columbus McKinnon 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, Columbus McKinnon produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 68% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

Both Columbus McKinnon's ability to to convert EBIT to free cash flow and its EBIT growth rate gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. On the other hand, its level of total liabilities makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think Columbus McKinnon 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. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Columbus McKinnon insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you're in luck, since today we're sharing our list of reported insider transactions for free.

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.