Is Tutor Perini (NYSE:TPC) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
August 11, 2021
NYSE:TPC
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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. As with many other companies Tutor Perini Corporation (NYSE:TPC) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Tutor Perini

What Is Tutor Perini's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2021 Tutor Perini had US$910.7m of debt, an increase on US$836.4m, over one year. However, it also had US$231.1m in cash, and so its net debt is US$679.5m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:TPC Debt to Equity History August 12th 2021

How Strong Is Tutor Perini's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Tutor Perini had liabilities of US$2.03b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.26b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$231.1m and US$3.40b worth of receivables due within a year. So it actually has US$352.5m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This excess liquidity is a great indication that Tutor Perini's balance sheet is almost as strong as Fort Knox. Having regard to this fact, we think its balance sheet is as strong as an ox.

We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). 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).

Tutor Perini's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 1.7 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 3.5 times last year. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. It is well worth noting that Tutor Perini's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 46% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. 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 Tutor Perini can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Tutor Perini reported free cash flow worth 12% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.

Our View

Happily, Tutor Perini's impressive EBIT growth rate implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at the bigger picture, we think Tutor Perini's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example Tutor Perini has 2 warning signs (and 1 which can't be ignored) we think you should know about.

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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