We Think Clorox (NYSE:CLX) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 22, 2021
NYSE:CLX
Source: Shutterstock

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 can see that The Clorox Company (NYSE:CLX) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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 Clorox

What Is Clorox's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Clorox had US$2.87b of debt, at September 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$236.0m in cash leading to net debt of about US$2.63b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:CLX Debt to Equity History November 22nd 2021

How Healthy Is Clorox's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Clorox had liabilities of US$2.64b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.09b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$236.0m as well as receivables valued at US$654.0m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$4.84b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit isn't so bad because Clorox is worth a massive US$20.5b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

Clorox's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.2 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 10.2 times, makes us even more comfortable. Importantly, Clorox's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 33% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Clorox's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 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, Clorox 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

Based on what we've seen Clorox is not finding it easy, given its EBIT growth rate, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. There's no doubt that its ability to to convert EBIT to free cash flow is pretty flash. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Clorox's use of debt. 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. 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 Clorox , 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.

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