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Is Speedy Hire (LON:SDY) Using Too Much Debt?

Simply Wall St

Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that '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 Speedy Hire Plc (LON:SDY) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Speedy Hire

What Is Speedy Hire's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at March 2019 Speedy Hire had debt of UK£100.9m, up from UK£79.2m in one year. However, it does have UK£11.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about UK£89.4m.

LSE:SDY Historical Debt, September 7th 2019

How Strong Is Speedy Hire's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Speedy Hire had liabilities of UK£97.9m due within 12 months and liabilities of UK£113.5m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had UK£11.5m in cash and UK£103.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total UK£96.9m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit isn't so bad because Speedy Hire is worth UK£267.1m, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Speedy Hire has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.1. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 10.1 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Also good is that Speedy Hire grew its EBIT at 11% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage 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 Speedy Hire'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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Speedy Hire generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 99% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Happily, Speedy Hire's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its interest cover is also very heartening. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Speedy Hire takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Speedy Hire insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

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.