We Think Hubbell (NYSE:HUBB) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 06, 2021
NYSE:HUBB
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. Importantly, Hubbell Incorporated (NYSE:HUBB) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Hubbell

What Is Hubbell's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2021 Hubbell had US$1.56b of debt, an increase on US$1.46b, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$267.8m in cash leading to net debt of about US$1.30b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:HUBB Debt to Equity History December 6th 2021

A Look At Hubbell's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Hubbell had liabilities of US$1.04b due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.03b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$267.8m and US$798.3m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$2.00b.

Given Hubbell has a humongous market capitalization of US$11.0b, 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). 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).

Hubbell's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.8 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 10.1 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Unfortunately, Hubbell saw its EBIT slide 3.1% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue on that decline then managing that debt will be difficult like delivering hot soup on a unicycle. 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 Hubbell'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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Hubbell generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 83% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Happily, Hubbell's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But truth be told we feel its EBIT growth rate does undermine this impression a bit. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Hubbell takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Hubbell you should be aware of.

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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