David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. We can see that Zurn Water Solutions Corporation (NYSE:ZWS) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Zurn Water Solutions Carry?
As you can see below, Zurn Water Solutions had US$539.2m of debt at December 2021, down from US$1.12b a year prior. However, it does have US$96.6m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$442.6m.
A Look At Zurn Water Solutions' Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Zurn Water Solutions had liabilities of US$240.4m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$710.9m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$96.6m and US$177.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$677.5m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given Zurn Water Solutions has a market capitalization of US$4.50b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Zurn Water Solutions has net debt worth 2.3 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 3.3 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. The bad news is that Zurn Water Solutions saw its EBIT decline by 18% over the last year. If earnings continue to decline at that rate then handling the debt will be more difficult than taking three children under 5 to a fancy pants restaurant. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Zurn Water Solutions 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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Zurn Water Solutions actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.
On our analysis Zurn Water Solutions's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. In particular, EBIT growth rate gives us cold feet. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Zurn Water Solutions's use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Be aware that Zurn Water Solutions is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , you should know about...
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
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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.