Stock Analysis

Here's Why John Bean Technologies (NYSE:JBT) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

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NYSE:JBT
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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.' 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, John Bean Technologies Corporation (NYSE:JBT) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for John Bean Technologies

What Is John Bean Technologies's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2022 John Bean Technologies had debt of US$674.6m, up from US$643.0m in one year. However, it also had US$68.1m in cash, and so its net debt is US$606.5m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:JBT Debt to Equity History August 30th 2022

A Look At John Bean Technologies' Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, John Bean Technologies had liabilities of US$606.7m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$825.6m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$68.1m as well as receivables valued at US$366.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$997.6m.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since John Bean Technologies has a market capitalization of US$3.42b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

John Bean Technologies's net debt is 2.5 times its EBITDA, which is a significant but still reasonable amount of leverage. However, its interest coverage of 18.0 is very high, suggesting that the interest expense on the debt is currently quite low. Unfortunately, John Bean Technologies saw its EBIT slide 6.1% 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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if John Bean Technologies can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, John Bean Technologies recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 83% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

John Bean Technologies's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its EBIT growth rate. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that John Bean Technologies 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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example - John Bean Technologies has 1 warning sign we think 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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

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About NYSE:JBT

John Bean Technologies

John Bean Technologies Corporation provides technology solutions to food and beverage industry and equipment and services to air transportation industries.

The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.

Analysis AreaScore (0-6)
Valuation2
Future Growth3
Past Performance2
Financial Health2
Dividends0

Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.

Moderate growth potential and slightly overvalued.