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We Think BWX Technologies (NYSE:BWXT) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

Simply Wall St

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. As with many other companies BWX Technologies, Inc. (NYSE:BWXT) makes use of 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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for BWX Technologies

What Is BWX Technologies's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 BWX Technologies had US$870.4m of debt, an increase on US$680.8m, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$38.1m, its net debt is less, at about US$832.3m.

NYSE:BWXT Historical Debt, August 26th 2019

How Healthy Is BWX Technologies's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that BWX Technologies had liabilities of US$315.4m due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.15b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$38.1m as well as receivables valued at US$504.9m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$919.3m.

Given BWX Technologies has a market capitalization of US$5.35b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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.

BWX Technologies has net debt to EBITDA of 2.6 suggesting it uses a fair bit of leverage to boost returns. But the high interest coverage of 7.9 suggests it can easily service that debt. Unfortunately, BWX Technologies's EBIT flopped 13% over the last four quarters. If that sort of decline is not arrested, then the managing its debt will be harder than selling broccoli flavoured ice-cream for a premium. 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 BWX Technologies 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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, BWX Technologies recorded free cash flow of 36% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

BWX Technologies's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered cast it in a significantly better light. For example, its interest cover is relatively strong. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that BWX Technologies is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. In light of our reservations about the company's balance sheet, it seems sensible to check if insiders have been selling shares recently.

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.