Here's Why Landstar System (NASDAQ:LSTR) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

Simply Wall St ·  Jun 10 22:07

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, Landstar System, Inc. (NASDAQ:LSTR) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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.

What Is Landstar System's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Landstar System had US$51.7m of debt in March 2024, down from US$66.2m, one year before. However, its balance sheet shows it holds US$530.5m in cash, so it actually has US$478.8m net cash.

NasdaqGS:LSTR Debt to Equity History June 10th 2024

How Strong Is Landstar System's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Landstar System had liabilities of US$589.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$138.3m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$530.5m in cash and US$764.4m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it can boast US$566.9m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This surplus suggests that Landstar System has a conservative balance sheet, and could probably eliminate its debt without much difficulty. Succinctly put, Landstar System boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

It is just as well that Landstar System's load is not too heavy, because its EBIT was down 41% over the last year. Falling earnings (if the trend continues) could eventually make even modest debt quite risky. 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 Landstar System'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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. Landstar System 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. During the last three years, Landstar System generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 90% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Summing Up

While we empathize with investors who find debt concerning, you should keep in mind that Landstar System has net cash of US$478.8m, as well as more liquid assets than liabilities. The cherry on top was that in converted 90% of that EBIT to free cash flow, bringing in US$320m. So we don't have any problem with Landstar System's use of debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For instance, we've identified 1 warning sign for Landstar System that you should be aware of.

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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