Stock Analysis

We Think IQVIA Holdings (NYSE:IQV) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

NYSE:IQV
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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 can see that IQVIA Holdings Inc. (NYSE:IQV) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is IQVIA Holdings's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2023 IQVIA Holdings had US$13.6b of debt, an increase on US$12.4b, over one year. However, it also had US$1.33b in cash, and so its net debt is US$12.3b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:IQV Debt to Equity History December 8th 2023

A Look At IQVIA Holdings' Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that IQVIA Holdings had liabilities of US$6.59b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$13.6b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.33b as well as receivables valued at US$3.28b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$15.6b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

IQVIA Holdings has a very large market capitalization of US$39.3b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate 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).

IQVIA Holdings's debt is 4.5 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.3 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Given the debt load, it's hardly ideal that IQVIA Holdings's EBIT was pretty flat over the last twelve months. 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 IQVIA Holdings'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, IQVIA Holdings actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

On our analysis IQVIA Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. In particular, net debt to EBITDA gives us cold feet. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about IQVIA Holdings's debt levels. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 2 warning signs with IQVIA Holdings (at least 1 which can't be ignored) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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

Find out whether IQVIA Holdings 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.