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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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We note that NVR, Inc. (NYSE:NVR) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. 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.
What Is NVR's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that NVR had US$1.52b in debt in March 2022; about the same as the year before. But on the other hand it also has US$2.14b in cash, leading to a US$623.0m net cash position.
How Strong Is NVR's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that NVR had liabilities of US$942.4m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$2.06b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$2.14b in cash and US$49.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$811.9m.
Since publicly traded NVR shares are worth a very impressive total of US$14.3b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, NVR boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
On top of that, NVR grew its EBIT by 53% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. 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 NVR'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. While NVR has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. Over the most recent three years, NVR recorded free cash flow worth 73% 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.
While it is always sensible to look at a company's total liabilities, it is very reassuring that NVR has US$623.0m in net cash. And we liked the look of last year's 53% year-on-year EBIT growth. So is NVR's debt a risk? It doesn't seem so to us. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for NVR that you should be aware of before investing here.
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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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.