Is Schneider National (NYSE:SNDR) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St · 09/15/2023 11:02

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, '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. We can see that Schneider National, Inc. (NYSE:SNDR) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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 frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for Schneider National

What Is Schneider National's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2023 Schneider National had US$216.1m of debt, an increase on US$205.0m, over one year. But it also has US$304.0m in cash to offset that, meaning it has US$87.9m net cash.

NYSE:SNDR Debt to Equity History September 15th 2023

How Strong Is Schneider National's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Schneider National had liabilities of US$594.1m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$910.7m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$304.0m as well as receivables valued at US$793.3m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$407.5m.

Of course, Schneider National has a market capitalization of US$4.95b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Schneider National boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

It is just as well that Schneider National's load is not too heavy, because its EBIT was down 27% over the last year. Falling earnings (if the trend continues) could eventually make even modest debt quite risky. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Schneider National'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. Schneider National may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Over the last three years, Schneider National reported free cash flow worth 6.1% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.

Summing Up

While it is always sensible to look at a company's total liabilities, it is very reassuring that Schneider National has US$87.9m in net cash. So while Schneider National does not have a great balance sheet, it's certainly not too bad. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Schneider National's earnings per share history for free.

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.