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. 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. Importantly, Pentair plc (NYSE:PNR) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Pentair Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, Pentair had US$1.22b of debt, up from US$779.9m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$80.5m, its net debt is less, at about US$1.13b.
How Healthy Is Pentair's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Pentair had liabilities of US$710.2m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.65b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$80.5m in cash and US$503.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$1.78b.
Pentair has a market capitalization of US$6.14b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
We'd say that Pentair's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 2.1), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 17.9 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Notably Pentair's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year. Ideally it can diminish its debt load by kick-starting earnings growth. 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 Pentair 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Pentair generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 99% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Happily, Pentair's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Pentair takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. 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 Pentair's earnings per share history for free.
At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.