Stock Analysis

We Think STERIS (NYSE:STE) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

NYSE:STE
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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.' 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. Importantly, STERIS plc (NYSE:STE) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own 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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

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How Much Debt Does STERIS Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that STERIS had US$2.92b in debt in June 2023; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$208.6m, its net debt is less, at about US$2.71b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:STE Debt to Equity History November 6th 2023

A Look At STERIS' Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, STERIS had liabilities of US$886.9m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$3.72b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$208.6m and US$887.8m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$3.51b.

Given STERIS has a humongous market capitalization of US$21.5b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

STERIS has net debt worth 2.0 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 6.9 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. Also relevant is that STERIS has grown its EBIT by a very respectable 25% in the last year, thus enhancing its ability to pay down debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if STERIS 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.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, STERIS produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 67% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

STERIS'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. 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 STERIS commonly do use debt without problems. Zooming out, STERIS seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should be aware of the 3 warning signs we've spotted with STERIS .

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.

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

Find out whether STERIS 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.