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 might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, Carnival Corporation & Plc (NYSE:CCL) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Carnival Corporation & Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at August 2019 Carnival Corporation & had debt of US$10.8b, up from US$9.64b in one year. However, it also had US$1.15b in cash, and so its net debt is US$9.60b.
How Strong Is Carnival Corporation &'s Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Carnival Corporation & had liabilities of US$8.93b due within a year, and liabilities of US$9.77b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.15b and US$588.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$17.0b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit isn't so bad because Carnival Corporation & is worth a massive US$29.8b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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). 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).
We'd say that Carnival Corporation &'s moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.8), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 18.2 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Sadly, Carnival Corporation &'s EBIT actually dropped 2.8% in the last year. If that earnings trend continues then its debt load will grow heavy like the heart of a polar bear watching its sole cub. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Carnival Corporation & 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Carnival Corporation & recorded free cash flow worth 55% 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.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Carnival Corporation & was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Carnival Corporation &'s use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Carnival Corporation & 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.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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