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 note that Patrick Industries, Inc. (NASDAQ:PATK) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. 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. 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.
How Much Debt Does Patrick Industries Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Patrick Industries had US$586.5m in debt in June 2019; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$23.6m, its net debt is less, at about US$562.9m.
How Healthy Is Patrick Industries's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Patrick Industries had liabilities of US$205.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$667.2m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$23.6m in cash and US$114.7m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$734.0m.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$988.2m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Patrick Industries's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Patrick Industries has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.5 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 4.9 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. We saw Patrick Industries grow its EBIT by 3.6% in the last twelve months. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off 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 Patrick Industries'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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Patrick Industries generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 91% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Patrick Industries was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to handle its total liabilities. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Patrick Industries's debt levels. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Patrick Industries 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.
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.
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