Stock Analysis

Is Waters (NYSE:WAT) Using Too Much Debt?

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NYSE:WAT
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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. Importantly, Waters Corporation (NYSE:WAT) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

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What Is Waters's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Waters had US$1.48b of debt in July 2022, down from US$1.63b, one year before. However, it also had US$419.8m in cash, and so its net debt is US$1.06b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:WAT Debt to Equity History October 1st 2022

How Strong Is Waters' Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Waters had liabilities of US$746.6m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.90b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$419.8m as well as receivables valued at US$639.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$1.59b.

Of course, Waters has a titanic market capitalization of US$16.1b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Waters has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.1. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 24.4 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Fortunately, Waters grew its EBIT by 5.1% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. 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 Waters 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Waters produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 69% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that Waters's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Looking at the bigger picture, we think Waters's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. 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. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for Waters that you should be aware of before investing here.

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.

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

Find out whether Waters 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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About NYSE:WAT

Waters

Waters Corporation, a specialty measurement company, provides analytical workflow solutions in Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.

Analysis AreaScore (0-6)
Valuation1
Future Growth2
Past Performance2
Financial Health3
Dividends0

Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.

Mediocre balance sheet with questionable track record.