Is Pro-Dex (NASDAQ:PDEX) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 21, 2022
NasdaqCM:PDEX
Source: Shutterstock

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We can see that Pro-Dex, Inc. (NASDAQ:PDEX) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Pro-Dex

How Much Debt Does Pro-Dex Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2021 Pro-Dex had US$12.2m of debt, an increase on US$8.85m, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$6.49m, its net debt is less, at about US$5.67m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqCM:PDEX Debt to Equity History April 21st 2022

A Look At Pro-Dex's Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Pro-Dex had liabilities of US$5.97m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$14.1m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$6.49m in cash and US$8.85m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$4.77m.

Of course, Pro-Dex has a market capitalization of US$59.3m, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Pro-Dex's net debt is only 0.93 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 15.5 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. On the other hand, Pro-Dex saw its EBIT drop by 10.0% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue to decline at that rate the company may have increasing difficulty managing its debt load. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Pro-Dex 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Considering the last three years, Pro-Dex actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Pro-Dex was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. To be specific, it seems about as good at converting EBIT to free cash flow as wet socks are at keeping your feet warm. It's also worth noting that Pro-Dex is in the Medical Equipment industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Pro-Dex's debt levels. 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. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 4 warning signs for Pro-Dex (of which 1 is potentially serious!) 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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