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We Think QIAGEN (NYSE:QGEN) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We can see that QIAGEN N.V. (NYSE:QGEN) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for QIAGEN

How Much Debt Does QIAGEN Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that QIAGEN had US$1.78b in debt in June 2019; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$786.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$991.6m.

NYSE:QGEN Historical Debt, September 30th 2019

How Healthy Is QIAGEN's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, QIAGEN had liabilities of US$909.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.84b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$786.0m and US$425.3m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$1.54b.

This deficit isn't so bad because QIAGEN is worth US$7.44b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

QIAGEN has net debt worth 2.1 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 5.3 times the interest expense. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. The bad news is that QIAGEN saw its EBIT decline by 15% over the last year. If earnings continue to decline at that rate then handling the debt will be more difficult than taking three children under 5 to a fancy pants restaurant. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine QIAGEN's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs 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, QIAGEN produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 56% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

QIAGEN's struggle to grow its EBIT had us second guessing its balance sheet strength, but the other data-points we considered were relatively redeeming. For example, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is relatively strong. We think that QIAGEN's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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 QIAGEN's earnings per share history for free.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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.