Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. We can see that Polaris Inc. (NYSE:PII) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Polaris's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 Polaris had US$1.91b of debt, an increase on US$1.11b, over one year. However, it also had US$96.1m in cash, and so its net debt is US$1.81b.
How Healthy Is Polaris's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Polaris had liabilities of US$1.33b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.08b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$96.1m and US$231.5m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$3.08b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Polaris has a market capitalization of US$5.64b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Polaris's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.5 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 6.2 times last year. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. We saw Polaris grow its EBIT by 8.1% in the last twelve months. Whilst that hardly knocks our socks off it is a positive when it comes to debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Polaris can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Polaris recorded free cash flow worth 65% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Polaris was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Polaris's debt levels. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Polaris insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
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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