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We Think Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ:ATSG) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

Simply Wall St ·  {{timeTz}}

David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' 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, Air Transport Services Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATSG) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Air Transport Services Group

What Is Air Transport Services Group's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Air Transport Services Group had US$1.36b in debt in June 2022; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$47.2m, its net debt is less, at about US$1.31b.

debt-equity-history-analysisNasdaqGS:ATSG Debt to Equity History September 2nd 2022

A Look At Air Transport Services Group's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Air Transport Services Group had liabilities of US$328.3m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.72b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$47.2m as well as receivables valued at US$260.3m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.74b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$2.21b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Air Transport Services Group's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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

Air Transport Services Group's net debt of 2.1 times EBITDA suggests graceful use of debt. And the alluring interest cover (EBIT of 7.2 times interest expense) certainly does not do anything to dispel this impression. It is well worth noting that Air Transport Services Group's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 58% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. 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 Air Transport Services Group 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Air Transport Services Group 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

Neither Air Transport Services Group's ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to grow its EBIT with ease. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Air Transport Services Group is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Air Transport Services Group .

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.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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