Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That MSA Safety (NYSE:MSA) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

NYSE:MSA
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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. Importantly, MSA Safety Incorporated (NYSE:MSA) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

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What Is MSA Safety's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2023 MSA Safety had US$601.7m of debt, an increase on US$572.8m, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$146.4m in cash leading to net debt of about US$455.3m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:MSA Debt to Equity History March 18th 2024

How Healthy Is MSA Safety's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, MSA Safety had liabilities of US$332.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$870.5m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$146.4m and US$294.7m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$762.2m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given MSA Safety has a market capitalization of US$7.20b, 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 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

MSA Safety's net debt is only 0.98 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 10.4 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. In addition to that, we're happy to report that MSA Safety has boosted its EBIT by 33%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine MSA Safety'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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, MSA Safety's free cash flow amounted to 34% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

MSA Safety's EBIT growth rate suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that MSA Safety takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 4 warning signs with MSA Safety (at least 1 which is a bit unpleasant) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether MSA Safety is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.

About NYSE:MSA

MSA Safety

Develops, manufactures, and supplies safety products and technology solutions that protect people and facility infrastructures in the fire service, energy, utility, construction, and industrial manufacturing applications, as well as heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration industries worldwide.

Average dividend payer with acceptable track record.