David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital. 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, SPX FLOW, Inc. (NYSE:FLOW) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is SPX FLOW's Debt?
As you can see below, SPX FLOW had US$731.0m of debt at June 2019, down from US$839.6m a year prior. However, it does have US$186.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$544.3m.
How Strong Is SPX FLOW's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that SPX FLOW had liabilities of US$657.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$879.1m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$186.7m in cash and US$288.5m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.06b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$1.65b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on SPX FLOW's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
SPX FLOW's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.1 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 4.5 times last year. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Importantly, SPX FLOW grew its EBIT by 48% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. 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 SPX FLOW 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.
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. Over the most recent three years, SPX FLOW recorded free cash flow worth 60% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
On our analysis SPX FLOW's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to handle its total liabilities. Considering this range of data points, we think SPX FLOW is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. 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 SPX FLOW'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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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.