Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That PQ Group Holdings (NYSE:PQG) Is Using Debt Extensively

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Warren Buffett famously said, '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. As with many other companies PQ Group Holdings Inc. (NYSE:PQG) makes use of debt. 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. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for PQ Group Holdings

How Much Debt Does PQ Group Holdings Carry?

As you can see below, PQ Group Holdings had US$1.94b of debt, at September 2020, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have US$169.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.77b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:PQG Debt to Equity History March 8th 2021

How Healthy Is PQ Group Holdings' Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that PQ Group Holdings had liabilities of US$234.2m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.29b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$169.0m and US$196.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$2.16b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$2.36b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on PQ Group Holdings' use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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). 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).

Weak interest cover of 1.7 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.2 hit our confidence in PQ Group Holdings like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that PQ Group Holdings saw its EBIT drop by 15% 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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if PQ Group Holdings can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, PQ Group Holdings produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 65% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

On the face of it, PQ Group Holdings's net debt to EBITDA left us tentative about the stock, and its interest cover was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear to us that PQ Group Holdings's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should learn about the 4 warning signs we've spotted with PQ Group Holdings (including 1 which is potentially serious) .

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.

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Ecovyst Inc. provides specialty catalysts and services in the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and internationally.

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Rewards

  • Trading at 51.8% below our estimate of its fair value

  • Earnings are forecast to grow 24.32% per year

  • Earnings grew by 40.3% over the past year

Risks

  • Debt is not well covered by operating cash flow

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