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Is Universal Stainless & Alloy Products (NASDAQ:USAP) Using Too Much Debt?

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Simply Wall St
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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. 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 can see that Universal Stainless & Alloy Products, Inc. (NASDAQ:USAP) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Universal Stainless & Alloy Products

How Much Debt Does Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 Universal Stainless & Alloy Products had debt of US$66.9m, up from US$60.0m in one year. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.

NasdaqGS:USAP Historical Debt, October 3rd 2019
NasdaqGS:USAP Historical Debt, October 3rd 2019

How Strong Is Universal Stainless & Alloy Products's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Universal Stainless & Alloy Products had liabilities of US$42.9m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$79.7m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$228.0k in cash and US$41.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$81.3m.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$127.0m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Universal Stainless & Alloy Products's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

Universal Stainless & Alloy Products has net debt worth 2.4 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 3.2 times the interest expense. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. Notably Universal Stainless & Alloy Products's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year. Ideally it can diminish its debt load by kick-starting earnings growth. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Universal Stainless & Alloy Products can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Universal Stainless & Alloy Products burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

Mulling over Universal Stainless & Alloy Products's attempt at converting EBIT to free cash flow, we're certainly not enthusiastic. Having said that, its ability to grow its EBIT isn't such a worry. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Universal Stainless & Alloy Products has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Universal Stainless & Alloy Products, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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.

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.