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. We can see that Avantor, Inc. (NYSE:AVTR) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Avantor's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of March 2022 Avantor had US$6.79b of debt, an increase on US$4.56b, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$283.6m in cash leading to net debt of about US$6.51b.
How Healthy Is Avantor's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Avantor had liabilities of US$1.45b due within a year, and liabilities of US$8.03b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$283.6m as well as receivables valued at US$1.35b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$7.85b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Avantor has a huge market capitalization of US$18.2b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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.
Avantor has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.3 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 4.6 times. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Importantly, Avantor grew its EBIT by 32% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. 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 Avantor'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Avantor generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 81% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Happily, Avantor's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its net debt to EBITDA. All these things considered, it appears that Avantor can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for Avantor (1 doesn't sit too well with us) you should be aware of.
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
What are the risks and opportunities for Avantor?
Price-To-Earnings ratio (26.5x) is below the Life Sciences industry average (31.1x)
Earnings are forecast to grow 12.26% per year
Earnings grew by 28.5% over the past year
Debt is not well covered by operating cash flow
Shareholders have been diluted in the past year
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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.
Avantor, Inc. provides products and services to customers in biopharma, healthcare, education and government, advanced technologies, and applied materials industries in the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
Proven track record with mediocre balance sheet.