We Think Halma (LON:HLMA) Can Manage Its Debt With Ease

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 24, 2021
LSE:HLMA
Source: Shutterstock

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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We note that Halma plc (LON:HLMA) does have debt on its balance sheet. 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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Halma

What Is Halma's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Halma had UK£343.7m of debt in September 2021, down from UK£376.1m, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of UK£131.1m, its net debt is less, at about UK£212.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
LSE:HLMA Debt to Equity History December 24th 2021

How Healthy Is Halma's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Halma had liabilities of UK£259.3m due within 12 months, and liabilities of UK£476.8m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of UK£131.1m as well as receivables valued at UK£283.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total UK£321.4m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given Halma has a humongous market capitalization of UK£12.0b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Halma's net debt is only 0.62 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 34.3 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Another good sign is that Halma has been able to increase its EBIT by 21% in twelve months, making it easier to pay down debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Halma 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Halma generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 85% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Happily, Halma's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Overall, we don't think Halma is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. 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. For instance, we've identified 1 warning sign for Halma that you should be aware of.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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