Here's Why Woodward (NASDAQ:WWD) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 11, 2022
NasdaqGS:WWD
Source: Shutterstock

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. Importantly, Woodward, Inc. (NASDAQ:WWD) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. 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. 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 Woodward

What Is Woodward's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Woodward had debt of US$766.9m at the end of December 2021, a reduction from US$827.8m over a year. On the flip side, it has US$426.1m in cash leading to net debt of about US$340.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:WWD Debt to Equity History April 11th 2022

How Strong Is Woodward's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Woodward had liabilities of US$329.5m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.48b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$426.1m in cash and US$515.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$870.6m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Since publicly traded Woodward shares are worth a total of US$7.33b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

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.

Woodward has net debt of just 0.92 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 9.8 times the interest expense over the last year. But the bad news is that Woodward has seen its EBIT plunge 11% in the last twelve months. If that rate of decline in earnings continues, the company could find itself in a tight spot. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Woodward's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Woodward actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

Woodward'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 the stark truth is that we are concerned by its EBIT growth rate. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Woodward can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Woodward, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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