Stock Analysis

Here's Why Church & Dwight (NYSE:CHD) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

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NYSE:CHD
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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.' 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 note that Church & Dwight Co., Inc. (NYSE:CHD) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Church & Dwight

What Is Church & Dwight's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Church & Dwight had US$2.41b of debt in September 2023, down from US$2.51b, one year before. However, it does have US$573.3m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.83b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:CHD Debt to Equity History January 25th 2024

How Healthy Is Church & Dwight's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Church & Dwight had liabilities of US$1.19b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$3.46b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$573.3m and US$460.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$3.62b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Of course, Church & Dwight has a titanic market capitalization of US$24.5b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

With net debt sitting at just 1.5 times EBITDA, Church & Dwight is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And it boasts interest cover of 9.6 times, which is more than adequate. The good news is that Church & Dwight has increased its EBIT by 7.1% over twelve months, which should ease any concerns about debt repayment. 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 Church & Dwight 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Church & Dwight recorded free cash flow worth 80% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

Church & Dwight's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow 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 interest cover also supports that impression! Zooming out, Church & Dwight seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Church & Dwight you should be aware of.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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

Find out whether Church & Dwight 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.