David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. As with many other companies West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc. (NYSE:WST) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. 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. 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.
What Is West Pharmaceutical Services's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that West Pharmaceutical Services had US$253.0m in debt in December 2021; about the same as the year before. But on the other hand it also has US$762.6m in cash, leading to a US$509.6m net cash position.
A Look At West Pharmaceutical Services' Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that West Pharmaceutical Services had liabilities of US$594.1m due within a year, and liabilities of US$384.3m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$762.6m and US$489.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it actually has US$273.2m more liquid assets than total liabilities.
Having regard to West Pharmaceutical Services' size, it seems that its liquid assets are well balanced with its total liabilities. So while it's hard to imagine that the US$27.1b company is struggling for cash, we still think it's worth monitoring its balance sheet. Succinctly put, West Pharmaceutical Services boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
In addition to that, we're happy to report that West Pharmaceutical Services has boosted its EBIT by 82%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine West Pharmaceutical Services'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. While West Pharmaceutical Services has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. Over the most recent three years, West Pharmaceutical Services recorded free cash flow worth 59% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
While it is always sensible to investigate a company's debt, in this case West Pharmaceutical Services has US$509.6m in net cash and a decent-looking balance sheet. And we liked the look of last year's 82% year-on-year EBIT growth. So we don't think West Pharmaceutical Services's use of debt is risky. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of West Pharmaceutical Services's earnings per share history for free.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
What are the risks and opportunities for West Pharmaceutical Services?
Earnings are forecast to grow 8.79% per year
Earnings have grown 34.1% per year over the past 5 years
No risks detected for WST from our risks checks.
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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.
West Pharmaceutical Services
West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc. designs, manufactures, and sells containment and delivery systems for injectable drugs and healthcare products in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia Pacific.
Flawless balance sheet with acceptable track record.