Allison Transmission Holdings (NYSE:ALSN) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

Allison Transmission Holdings, Inc. +0.08%

Allison Transmission Holdings, Inc.

ALSN

75.14

+0.08%

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. Importantly, Allison Transmission Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:ALSN) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Allison Transmission Holdings

What Is Allison Transmission Holdings's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Allison Transmission Holdings had US$2.50b of debt, at September 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it also had US$512.0m in cash, and so its net debt is US$1.99b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ALSN Debt to Equity History January 30th 2024

How Healthy Is Allison Transmission Holdings' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Allison Transmission Holdings had liabilities of US$504.0m due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.30b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$512.0m as well as receivables valued at US$372.0m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$2.92b.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Allison Transmission Holdings has a market capitalization of US$5.39b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Allison Transmission Holdings's net debt of 1.9 times EBITDA suggests graceful use of debt. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 7.9 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. If Allison Transmission Holdings can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 15% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Allison Transmission Holdings 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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Allison Transmission Holdings recorded free cash flow worth 68% 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.

Our View

The good news is that Allison Transmission Holdings's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But truth be told we feel its level of total liabilities does undermine this impression a bit. All these things considered, it appears that Allison Transmission Holdings 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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example - Allison Transmission Holdings has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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