The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says ‘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. We can see that Gardner Denver Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:GDI) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. 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 Gardner Denver Holdings Carry?
As you can see below, Gardner Denver Holdings had US$1.59b of debt at September 2019, down from US$1.77b a year prior. On the flip side, it has US$406.4m in cash leading to net debt of about US$1.19b.
How Strong Is Gardner Denver Holdings’s Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Gardner Denver Holdings had liabilities of US$595.8m due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.17b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$406.4m in cash and US$485.9m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.87b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn’t so bad because Gardner Denver Holdings is worth US$7.59b, 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).
Gardner Denver Holdings has net debt worth 2.0 times EBITDA, which isn’t too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 4.4 times the interest expense. While that doesn’t worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Importantly Gardner Denver Holdings’s EBIT was essentially flat over the last twelve months. Ideally it can diminish its debt load by kick-starting earnings growth. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Gardner Denver Holdings 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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. 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, Gardner Denver Holdings generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 84% of its EBIT, more than we’d expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Gardner Denver Holdings’s conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14’s goalkeeper. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its interest cover. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Gardner Denver Holdings 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. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We’ve spotted 1 warning sign for Gardner Denver Holdings you should be aware of.
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.
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.
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. Thank you for reading.