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, Pentair plc (NYSE:PNR) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Pentair's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Pentair had debt of US$700.9m at the end of September 2021, a reduction from US$805.2m over a year. However, it also had US$173.2m in cash, and so its net debt is US$527.7m.
How Strong Is Pentair's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Pentair had liabilities of US$1.02b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.12b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$173.2m and US$516.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.45b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded Pentair shares are worth a very impressive total of US$10.6b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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.
Pentair's net debt is only 0.75 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 40.7 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Pentair has boosted its EBIT by 38%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Pentair's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Pentair generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 95% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
The good news is that Pentair's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Overall, we don't think Pentair is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So we're not worried about the use of a little leverage on the balance sheet. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Pentair's earnings per share history for free.
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.