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 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. We can see that Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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. 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 thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Olin's Net Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Olin had US$3.24b of debt in June 2019, down from US$3.56b, one year before. However, it also had US$128.6m in cash, and so its net debt is US$3.11b.
How Healthy Is Olin's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Olin had liabilities of US$1.05b due within a year, and liabilities of US$5.41b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$128.6m and US$871.6m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$5.46b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$2.79b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt At the end of the day, Olin would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (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).
While Olin's debt to EBITDA ratio (2.8) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 2.1, suggesting high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that Olin saw its EBIT drop by 11% over the last twelve months. If things keep going like that, handling the debt will about as easy as bundling an angry house cat into its travel box. 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 Olin'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.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Olin produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 67% 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.
To be frank both Olin's interest cover and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. We're quite clear that we consider Olin to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Olin insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.
If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
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