The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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 ASML Holding N.V. (AMS:ASML) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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.
How Much Debt Does ASML Holding Carry?
As you can see below, ASML Holding had €2.99b of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of €2.33b, its net debt is less, at about €657.8m.
How Strong Is ASML Holding's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, ASML Holding had liabilities of €3.69b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €4.80b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had €2.33b in cash and €2.77b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €3.38b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given ASML Holding has a humongous market capitalization of €82.1b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. Carrying virtually no net debt, ASML Holding has a very light debt load indeed.
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.
ASML Holding has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.23. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 81.0 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. On the other hand, ASML Holding saw its EBIT drop by 8.1% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue to decline at that rate the company may have increasing difficulty managing its debt load. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine ASML Holding'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, ASML Holding produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 57% 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.
ASML Holding's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its EBIT growth rate. All these things considered, it appears that ASML Holding can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that ASML Holding insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you're in luck, since today we're sharing our list of reported insider transactions for free.
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 email@example.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.