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Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ:WERN) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. As with many other companies Werner Enterprises, Inc. (NASDAQ:WERN) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Werner Enterprises

What Is Werner Enterprises's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 Werner Enterprises had US$390.0m of debt, an increase on US$95.0m, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$46.4m in cash leading to net debt of about US$343.6m.

NasdaqGS:WERN Historical Debt, August 12th 2019

How Strong Is Werner Enterprises's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Werner Enterprises had liabilities of US$228.6m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$867.7m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$46.4m in cash and US$364.3m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$685.6m.

This deficit isn't so bad because Werner Enterprises is worth US$2.18b, 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.

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).

Werner Enterprises has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.72. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 290 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Werner Enterprises has boosted its EBIT by 55%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Werner Enterprises 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.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Werner Enterprises saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

Based on what we've seen Werner Enterprises is not finding it easy conversion of EBIT to free cash flow, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. There's no doubt that its ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT is pretty flash. Considering this range of data points, we think Werner Enterprises is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Werner Enterprises, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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.

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.