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Is Pool (NASDAQ:POOL) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, '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. Importantly, Pool Corporation (NASDAQ:POOL) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for Pool

How Much Debt Does Pool Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 Pool had US$693.2m of debt, an increase on US$657.1m, over one year. However, it also had US$61.4m in cash, and so its net debt is US$631.8m.

NasdaqGS:POOL Historical Debt, August 4th 2019

How Strong Is Pool's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Pool had liabilities of US$503.6m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$843.8m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$61.4m and US$417.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$868.9m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given Pool has a market capitalization of US$7.54b, 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.

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.

We'd say that Pool's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.8), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 13.8 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. If Pool can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 12% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Pool 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Pool produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 53% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that Pool'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 Pool 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. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Pool insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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.