Stock Analysis

Is U.S. Physical Therapy (NYSE:USPH) A Risky Investment?

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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.' 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. Importantly, U.S. Physical Therapy, Inc. (NYSE:USPH) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for U.S. Physical Therapy

What Is U.S. Physical Therapy's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that U.S. Physical Therapy had US$151.0m in debt in June 2023; about the same as the year before. But on the other hand it also has US$164.2m in cash, leading to a US$13.2m net cash position.

NYSE:USPH Debt to Equity History October 13th 2023

How Strong Is U.S. Physical Therapy's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that U.S. Physical Therapy had liabilities of US$85.8m due within a year, and liabilities of US$258.3m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$164.2m in cash and US$71.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$108.7m.

Since publicly traded U.S. Physical Therapy shares are worth a total of US$1.31b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, U.S. Physical Therapy boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

While U.S. Physical Therapy doesn't seem to have gained much on the EBIT line, at least earnings remain stable for now. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine U.S. Physical Therapy'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. U.S. Physical Therapy may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. During the last three years, U.S. Physical Therapy generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 95% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Summing Up

We could understand if investors are concerned about U.S. Physical Therapy's liabilities, but we can be reassured by the fact it has has net cash of US$13.2m. And it impressed us with free cash flow of US$62m, being 95% of its EBIT. So is U.S. Physical Therapy's debt a risk? It doesn't seem so to us. 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. We've identified 4 warning signs with U.S. Physical Therapy , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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

Find out whether U.S. Physical Therapy 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.