Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We note that Republic Services, Inc. (NYSE:RSG) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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 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, 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.
What Is Republic Services's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Republic Services had US$8.56b in debt in September 2019; about the same as the year before. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.
How Strong Is Republic Services's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Republic Services had liabilities of US$3.00b due within a year, and liabilities of US$11.4b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$55.6m as well as receivables valued at US$1.25b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$13.0b.
Republic Services has a very large market capitalization of US$27.5b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
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.
Republic Services's debt is 3.0 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.7 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Republic Services grew its EBIT by 3.0% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Republic Services'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 clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Republic Services recorded free cash flow worth 65% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
On our analysis Republic Services's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For example, its net debt to EBITDA makes us a little nervous about its debt. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Republic Services's use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Republic Services insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
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.
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