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Here's Why Duluth Holdings (NASDAQ:DLTH) Is Weighed Down By Its Debt Load

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. As with many other companies Duluth Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:DLTH) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Duluth Holdings

What Is Duluth Holdings's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Duluth Holdings had US$73.5m of debt in August 2019, down from US$77.4m, one year before. However, it also had US$3.47m in cash, and so its net debt is US$70.1m.

NasdaqGS:DLTH Historical Debt, September 26th 2019

A Look At Duluth Holdings's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Duluth Holdings had liabilities of US$71.4m due within a year, and liabilities of US$209.4m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$3.47m in cash and US$7.14m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$270.2m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$275.6m. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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). 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).

Duluth Holdings has net debt worth 1.8 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 3.8 times the interest expense. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Shareholders should be aware that Duluth Holdings's EBIT was down 45% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Duluth Holdings'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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Duluth Holdings saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

On the face of it, Duluth Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least its net debt to EBITDA is not so bad. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Duluth Holdings has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn't float our boat. Given the risks around Duluth Holdings's use of debt, the sensible thing to do is to check if insiders have been unloading the stock.

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.