Following the bursting of the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis, debt has become somewhat of a 4-letter word to many Americans. And while there are many benefits to debt-free living for households, in the corporate world, debt is often desirable.
The Benefits of Debt
In order for a company to grow, it must finance that growth. This can come from retained earnings, issuing debt, or by selling new shares of stock. While many investors seem to prefer debt-free balance sheets, there are actually quite a few benefits for a company to have some debt:
It's cheaper than equity financing.
Interest payments are tax deductible, while dividends paid to shareholders are not.
Issuing debt does not dilute shareholder value, unlike issuing new equity.
Too Much of a Good Thing...
Of course too much debt can be crippling for a company if business turns south. The more debt financing a company uses, the greater its risk of bankruptcy.
If a company is distressed, you can bet that those interest payments will get sent out before any dividend checks. And in the event of a bankruptcy, debtholders have first claim on company assets over stockholders.
So what's the right balance of debt and equity for a company? Ideally, a company should operate around its optimal capital structure - where its weighted average cost of capital (WACC) is minimized. But finding the right amount of debt-to-equity may be more art than science.
There are ways, however, for investors to tell if a company is carrying too much debt. And that involves looking at various financial ratios.
Liquidity vs. Solvency
Two of the best types of ratios to consider are liquidity and solvency ratios.
Liquidity is a measure of the firm's ability to meet its short-term obligations. Solvency is a measure of the firm's ability to meet its long-term obligations. It's more of a measure of the firm's long-term survival.
Two of the most common liquidity ratios are the Current Ratio [Current Assets / Current Liabilities] and the Quick Ratio [(Current Assets - Inventories) / Current Liabilities]. These will vary across industries, so it's important to compare them to their peers. But the higher the ratios the better.
The most common solvency ratios are the Interest Coverage Ratio [Operating Income / Interest Expense] and the Debt/Equity ratio. The more leveraged a company is, the lower its Interest Coverage Ratio will be and the higher its D/E ratio will be. Again, these will depend on what industry a company operates in. Capital-intensive businesses will typically carry larger amounts of debt on its balance sheet. Again, it's important to consider industry averages.
4 Companies Drowning in Debt
I ran a screen for companies with poor liquidity and solvency ratios. While this doesn't necessarily signal imminent bankruptcy, these four companies all appear to be cash-strapped and overleveraged at the moment. And that's a dangerous place to be, especially if business doesn't improve.
This cable company went through bankruptcy back in 2009 and canceled all existing shares outstanding at the time. Ouch. Charter restructured its balance sheet and went public again the next year. But its balance sheet still isn't pretty.
This highly leveraged grocery store chain is losing marketshare to its rivals. The company is barely earning enough to cover its interest expense, which leaves little left over for shareholders. Supervalu looks like a super-value trap.
USG Corp, which manufactures building materials, has a fair amount of liquidity, but its solvency ratios are less than stellar. In the first six months of this year, the company generated $58 million in operating income. But it had to pay out almost twice that amount in interest expense, leading to another quarterly loss for USG.
Boyd Gaming operates hotels and casinos throughout the United States. The company has gambled by taking on a lot of debt, and right now it isn't paying off. Interest payments so far this year have consumed virtually all operating profits.
The Bottom Line
For corporations, a prudent amount of debt can be beneficial. But too much debt will increase the risks of bankruptcy and put shareholders at risk. These 4 companies appear to be in over their heads at the moment.
Zacks.com is a property of Zacks Investment Research, Inc., which was formed in 1978 by Len Zacks. The company continually processes stock reports issued by 3,000 analysts from 150 brokerage firms. It monitors more than 200,000 earnings estimates, looking for changes.
Then when changes are discovered, they're applied to help assign more than 4,400 stocks into five Zacks Rank categories: #1 Strong Buy, #2 Buy, #3 Hold, #4 Sell, and #5 Strong Sell. This proprietary stock picking system; the Zacks Rank, continues to outperform the market by nearly a 3 to 1 margin. The best way to unlock the profitable stock recommendations and market insights of Zacks Investment Research is through our free daily email newsletter Profit from the Pros. In short, it's your steady flow of profitable ideas GUARANTEED to be worth your time. Get your free subscription to Profit from the Pros at: http://at.zacks.com/?id=7298
Zacks Investment Research is under common control with affiliated entities (including a broker-dealer and an investment adviser), which may engage in transactions involving the foregoing securities for the clients of such affiliates.
Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investors should always research companies and securities before making any investments. Nothing herein should be construed as an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any security.