Is Green Brick Partners (NYSE:GRBK) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St ·  Mar 31 08:36

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 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. We can see that Green Brick Partners, Inc. (NYSE:GRBK) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

How Much Debt Does Green Brick Partners Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Green Brick Partners had US$346.9m of debt in December 2023, down from US$367.8m, one year before. However, it also had US$179.8m in cash, and so its net debt is US$167.1m.

NYSE:GRBK Debt to Equity History March 31st 2024

How Healthy Is Green Brick Partners' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Green Brick Partners had liabilities of US$208.1m due within a year, and liabilities of US$340.6m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$179.8m as well as receivables valued at US$10.6m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$358.3m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given Green Brick Partners has a market capitalization of US$2.71b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Green Brick Partners has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.47. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 1k times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Green Brick Partners's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year, but that shouldn't be an issue given the it doesn't have a lot of debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Green Brick Partners's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. In the last three years, Green Brick Partners's free cash flow amounted to 21% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

Green Brick Partners's interest cover was a real positive on this analysis, as was its net debt to EBITDA. Having said that, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow somewhat sensitizes us to potential future risks to the balance sheet. Considering this range of data points, we think Green Brick Partners is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Green Brick Partners 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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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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