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.' 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 note that Flowserve Corporation (NYSE:FLS) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Flowserve's Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Flowserve had US$1.27b in debt in March 2022; about the same as the year before. However, it also had US$575.8m in cash, and so its net debt is US$697.0m.
How Healthy Is Flowserve's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Flowserve had liabilities of US$1.15b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$1.76b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$575.8m as well as receivables valued at US$930.3m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$1.41b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Flowserve has a market capitalization of US$4.13b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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.
Flowserve's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.2 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 4.6 times last year. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Shareholders should be aware that Flowserve's EBIT was down 44% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Flowserve 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Flowserve produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 62% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Flowserve's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered cast it in a significantly better light. But on the bright side, its ability to to convert EBIT to free cash flow isn't too shabby at all. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Flowserve's debt poses some risks to the business. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Flowserve you should know about.
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.
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.