Here's Why Allegiant Travel (NASDAQ:ALGT) Has A Meaningful Debt Burden

Allegiant Travel Company +0.76%

Allegiant Travel Company

ALGT

53.38

+0.76%

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. As with many other companies Allegiant Travel Company (NASDAQ:ALGT) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. 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.

See our latest analysis for Allegiant Travel

What Is Allegiant Travel's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2023 Allegiant Travel had debt of US$1.80b, up from US$1.60b in one year. However, it does have US$814.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$989.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:ALGT Debt to Equity History March 29th 2024

How Strong Is Allegiant Travel's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Allegiant Travel had liabilities of US$1.21b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$2.33b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$814.7m and US$70.7m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$2.66b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$1.35b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Allegiant Travel would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Allegiant Travel 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 4.1 times the interest expense. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Importantly, Allegiant Travel grew its EBIT by 95% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Allegiant Travel'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. 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, Allegiant Travel 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

On the face of it, Allegiant Travel's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Allegiant Travel's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example, we've discovered 3 warning signs for Allegiant Travel (1 can't be ignored!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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