- By now it is a well-known fact that corporations have no real way of generating organic growth in this economy, so they are relying on two things to boost share prices: multiple expansion (courtesy of central banks) and debt-funded buybacks (also courtesy of central banks who keep the cost of debt record low), the latter of which requires the firm to generate excess incremental cash. Incidentally, as SocGen showed last year, all the newly created debt in the 20th century has gone for just one thing: to fund stock buybacks.
- One doesn’t have to be a financial guru to grasp that the problem with this “strategy” is that if a firm is going to continue to add debt to its balance sheet in order to fund buybacks (and dividends), then it needs to be able to generate enough operational cash flow in order to service the debt. Even if one makes the argument that debt is cheap right now, which may be true, or that central banks are backstopping it, which is certainly true in Europe as of the ECB’s shocking March announcement in which the CSPP was revealed, the fact remains that principal balances come due eventually, and while debt can be rolled over, at some point the inability to generate cash from the operations catches up; furthermore even a small increase in rates means the rolling debt strategy is dies a painful death, as early 2016 showed.
- Then, as we showed to months ago using another stunning chart from SocGen’s Andy Lapthorne, what has gone largely unnoticed in the recent past, is that the differential between the growth rate of net debt and underlying cash flow or EBITDA, now at a staggering 35%, have never been greater. As Andy Lapthorne politely puts it in the chart below, there is “crazy growth in net debt.“
- One also does not have to be financial wizard to to know that a firm which has to borrow more than it can generate from core operations is not a sustainable business model, and yet today’s CFOs, pundits and central bankers do not.