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Is AptarGroup (NYSE:ATR) Using Too Much Debt?

Simply Wall St

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 note that AptarGroup, Inc. (NYSE:ATR) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest 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.

See our latest analysis for AptarGroup

What Is AptarGroup's Net Debt?

As you can see below, AptarGroup had US$1.16b of debt at September 2019, down from US$1.35b a year prior. However, it also had US$270.6m in cash, and so its net debt is US$888.2m.

NYSE:ATR Historical Debt, November 11th 2019

How Strong Is AptarGroup's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, AptarGroup had liabilities of US$648.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.26b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$270.6m and US$552.3m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$1.09b.

Given AptarGroup has a market capitalization of US$6.97b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

AptarGroup's net debt is only 1.5 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 13.6 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. And we also note warmly that AptarGroup grew its EBIT by 15% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if AptarGroup can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, AptarGroup recorded free cash flow worth 51% 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.

Our View

The good news is that AptarGroup's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And its EBIT growth rate is good too. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like AptarGroup is pretty sensible with its use of debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. 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 AptarGroup's earnings per share history 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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.