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.' 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. We can see that Xylem Inc. (NYSE:XYL) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Xylem Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Xylem had US$2.40b of debt in June 2022, down from US$3.07b, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$1.11b, its net debt is less, at about US$1.29b.
A Look At Xylem's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Xylem had liabilities of US$1.95b due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.04b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$1.11b in cash and US$1.02b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$2.85b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded Xylem shares are worth a very impressive total of US$16.7b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.
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). 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).
Xylem's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.6 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 10.5 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. On the other hand, Xylem's EBIT dived 13%, over the last year. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Xylem'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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Xylem recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 84% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Happily, Xylem's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But we must concede we find its EBIT growth rate has the opposite effect. All these things considered, it appears that Xylem can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Xylem you should be aware of, and 1 of them is concerning.
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.
What are the risks and opportunities for Xylem?
Earnings are forecast to grow 22.69% per year
Profit margins (6%) are lower than last year (8.8%)
Large one-off items impacting financial results
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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.
Xylem Inc., together with its subsidiaries, engages in the design, manufacture, and servicing of engineered products and solutions for the water and wastewater applications in the United States, Europe, the Asia Pacific, and internationally.
Excellent balance sheet with moderate growth potential.