Is Arcadium Lithium (NYSE:ALTM) A Risky Investment?

Altus Midstream Company - Class A Common Stock +3.30% Post

Altus Midstream Company - Class A Common Stock

ALTM

4.70

4.70

+3.30%

0.00% Post

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.' 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. We note that Arcadium Lithium plc (NYSE:ALTM) does have debt on its balance sheet. 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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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 Arcadium Lithium

What Is Arcadium Lithium's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2023 Arcadium Lithium had debt of US$302.0m, up from US$241.9m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$237.6m, its net debt is less, at about US$64.4m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ALTM Debt to Equity History March 29th 2024

How Strong Is Arcadium Lithium's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Arcadium Lithium had liabilities of US$268.6m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$677.7m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$237.6m in cash and US$172.3m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$536.4m.

Since publicly traded Arcadium Lithium shares are worth a total of US$6.56b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse. But either way, Arcadium Lithium has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

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).

Arcadium Lithium's net debt is only 0.15 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 1k times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. And we also note warmly that Arcadium Lithium grew its EBIT by 19% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. 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 Arcadium Lithium can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Arcadium Lithium recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is far more risky for companies with unreliable free cash flow, so shareholders should be hoping that the past expenditure will produce free cash flow in the future.

Our View

Arcadium Lithium's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. All these things considered, it appears that Arcadium Lithium can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Arcadium Lithium you should be aware of.

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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