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 might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. As with many other companies IDEX Corporation (NYSE:IEX) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is IDEX's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2021 IDEX had debt of US$1.19b, up from US$1.04b in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$806.5m, its net debt is less, at about US$383.6m.
How Strong Is IDEX's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, IDEX had liabilities of US$469.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.66b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$806.5m as well as receivables valued at US$366.8m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$955.0m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given IDEX has a humongous market capitalization of US$16.4b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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).
IDEX has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.53. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 14.9 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Also good is that IDEX grew its EBIT at 17% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine IDEX'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. 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, IDEX 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.
Happily, IDEX'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! Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that IDEX is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So we're not worried about the use of a little leverage on the balance sheet. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for IDEX 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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
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.