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Here's Why O'Reilly Automotive (NASDAQ:ORLY) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. As with many other companies O'Reilly Automotive, Inc. (NASDAQ:ORLY) 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. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for O'Reilly Automotive

How Much Debt Does O'Reilly Automotive Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, O'Reilly Automotive had US$3.78b of debt, up from US$3.25b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.

NasdaqGS:ORLY Historical Debt, August 23rd 2019

A Look At O'Reilly Automotive's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that O'Reilly Automotive had liabilities of US$4.36b due within a year, and liabilities of US$5.70b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$55.8m in cash and US$340.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$9.66b.

O'Reilly Automotive has a very large market capitalization of US$29.2b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

O'Reilly Automotive's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.8 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 14.4 times, makes us even more comfortable. O'Reilly Automotive grew its EBIT by 5.7% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. 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 O'Reilly Automotive's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, O'Reilly Automotive produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 59% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Happily, O'Reilly Automotive's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And we also thought its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was a positive. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that O'Reilly Automotive can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that O'Reilly Automotive insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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.