Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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. We can see that Tapestry, Inc. (NYSE:TPR) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Tapestry's Net Debt?
As you can see below, Tapestry had US$1.60b of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$1.23b in cash leading to net debt of about US$362.8m.
How Healthy Is Tapestry's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Tapestry had liabilities of US$918.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$2.45b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.23b and US$353.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$1.78b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit isn't so bad because Tapestry is worth US$7.32b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up 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.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Tapestry has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.31. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 19.0 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. But the other side of the story is that Tapestry saw its EBIT decline by 8.4% over the last year. If earnings continue to decline at that rate the company may have increasing difficulty managing its debt load. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Tapestry'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.
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. Over the most recent three years, Tapestry recorded free cash flow worth 67% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
The good news is that Tapestry's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its EBIT growth rate. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Tapestry 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 Tapestry 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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