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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, ‘The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about… and every practical investor I know worries about.’ 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. Bruker Corporation (NASDAQ:BRKR) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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 common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Bruker Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of March 2019, Bruker had US$334.6m of debt, up from US$220.6m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$298.8m in cash, and so its net debt is US$35.8m.
How Strong Is Bruker’s Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Bruker had liabilities of US$632.7m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$666.2m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$298.8m as well as receivables valued at US$391.9m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$608.2m.
Since publicly traded Bruker shares are worth a total of US$7.71b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. Carrying virtually no net debt, Bruker has a very light debt load indeed.
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.
Bruker’s net debt is only 0.10 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 25.1 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. And we also note warmly that Bruker grew its EBIT by 16% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. 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 Bruker’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.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Bruker recorded free cash flow worth 58% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Bruker’s interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14’s goalkeeper. And that’s just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. Zooming out, Bruker seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. We’d be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Bruker insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you’re in luck, since today we’re sharing our list of reported insider transactions 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 email@example.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.