Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. As with many other companies Plexus Corp. (NASDAQ:PLXS) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Plexus's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 Plexus had debt of US$283.6m, up from US$186.6m in one year. However, it also had US$198.4m in cash, and so its net debt is US$85.2m.
A Look At Plexus's Liabilities
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Plexus had liabilities of US$875.6m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$279.8m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$198.4m and US$564.5m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$392.5m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Plexus has a market capitalization of US$1.64b, 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.
Plexus's net debt is only 0.41 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 17.1 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. On top of that, Plexus grew its EBIT by 35% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. 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 Plexus 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Plexus reported free cash flow worth 17% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.
The good news is that Plexus's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Plexus can handle its debt fairly comfortably. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Plexus 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.
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