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.' 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 Insulet Corporation (NASDAQ:PODD) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Insulet Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2021 Insulet had debt of US$1.29b, up from US$921.5m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$857.1m, its net debt is less, at about US$428.8m.
How Healthy Is Insulet's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Insulet had liabilities of US$228.6m due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.27b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$857.1m as well as receivables valued at US$114.3m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$529.6m.
Since publicly traded Insulet shares are worth a very impressive total of US$15.4b, 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.
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.
While Insulet's debt to EBITDA ratio (3.1) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.2, suggesting high leverage. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that Insulet saw its EBIT drop by 10% over the last twelve months. If things keep going like that, handling the debt will about as easy as bundling an angry house cat into its travel box. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Insulet 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Insulet saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
On the face of it, Insulet's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its level of total liabilities is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. It's also worth noting that Insulet is in the Medical Equipment industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Insulet stock a bit risky. Some people like that sort of risk, but we're mindful of the potential pitfalls, so we'd probably prefer it carry less debt. 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. For example - Insulet has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.
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.
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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.