We Think IDEXX Laboratories (NASDAQ:IDXX) Can Manage Its Debt With Ease

By
Simply Wall St
Published
May 06, 2022
NasdaqGS:IDXX
Source: Shutterstock

Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. We can see that IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. (NASDAQ:IDXX) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for IDEXX Laboratories

What Is IDEXX Laboratories's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of March 2022 IDEXX Laboratories had US$1.17b of debt, an increase on US$903.7m, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$204.6m, its net debt is less, at about US$968.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:IDXX Debt to Equity History May 6th 2022

How Healthy Is IDEXX Laboratories' Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that IDEXX Laboratories had liabilities of US$971.3m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$981.6m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$204.6m and US$402.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.35b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Of course, IDEXX Laboratories has a titanic market capitalization of US$32.4b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.

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). 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).

IDEXX Laboratories's net debt is only 0.93 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 32.5 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. And we also note warmly that IDEXX Laboratories grew its EBIT by 17% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. 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 IDEXX Laboratories'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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, IDEXX Laboratories produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 68% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that IDEXX Laboratories's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! We would also note that Medical Equipment industry companies like IDEXX Laboratories commonly do use debt without problems. Overall, we don't think IDEXX Laboratories is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. 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. We've identified 3 warning signs with IDEXX Laboratories , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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