Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about. When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Gardner Denver Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:GDI) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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 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. 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.
What Is Gardner Denver Holdings's Net Debt?
As you can see below, Gardner Denver Holdings had US$1.62b of debt at June 2019, down from US$1.93b a year prior. However, it does have US$317.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.30b.
A Look At Gardner Denver Holdings's Liabilities
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Gardner Denver Holdings had liabilities of US$591.3m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$2.22b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$317.5m and US$524.6m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$1.97b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Gardner Denver Holdings has a market capitalization of US$5.98b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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.
Gardner Denver Holdings has net debt worth 2.2 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 4.6 times the interest expense. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. One way Gardner Denver Holdings could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 13%, as it did over the last year. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Gardner Denver Holdings'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Gardner Denver Holdings recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 81% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Gardner Denver Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But truth be told we feel its interest cover does undermine this impression a bit. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Gardner Denver Holdings can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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 Gardner Denver Holdings'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.
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