Is Mueller Water Products (NYSE:MWA) A Risky Investment?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
March 18, 2022
NYSE:MWA
Source: Shutterstock

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, Mueller Water Products, Inc. (NYSE:MWA) does carry 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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Mueller Water Products

What Is Mueller Water Products's Debt?

As you can see below, Mueller Water Products had US$446.1m of debt, at December 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$207.3m, its net debt is less, at about US$238.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:MWA Debt to Equity History March 18th 2022

How Strong Is Mueller Water Products' Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Mueller Water Products had liabilities of US$199.3m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$602.3m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$207.3m as well as receivables valued at US$190.6m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$403.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given Mueller Water Products has a market capitalization of US$2.03b, 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

While Mueller Water Products's low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.2 suggests only modest use of debt, the fact that EBIT only covered the interest expense by 7.0 times last year does give us pause. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. Fortunately, Mueller Water Products grew its EBIT by 8.0% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. 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 Mueller Water Products 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Mueller Water Products recorded free cash flow of 43% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

Mueller Water Products's net debt to EBITDA was a real positive on this analysis, as was its interest cover. On the other hand, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Mueller Water Products is managing its debt quite well. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Mueller Water Products .

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.

Discounted cash flow calculation for every stock

Simply Wall St does a detailed discounted cash flow calculation every 6 hours for every stock on the market, so if you want to find the intrinsic value of any company just search here. It’s FREE.

Make Confident Investment Decisions

Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.