Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, '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. As with many other companies Avantor, Inc. (NYSE:AVTR) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
See our latest analysis for Avantor
What Is Avantor's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2022 Avantor had debt of US$6.47b, up from US$5.58b in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$242.6m, its net debt is less, at about US$6.23b.NYSE:AVTR Debt to Equity History September 23rd 2022
A Look At Avantor's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet , Avantor had liabilities of US$1.57b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$7.39b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$242.6m as well as receivables valued at US$1.27b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$7.45b.
Avantor has a very large market capitalization of US$14.1b, 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.
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's debt is 4.0 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.5 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. We note that Avantor grew its EBIT by 23% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Avantor 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Avantor generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 84% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Avantor's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its net debt to EBITDA. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Avantor can handle its debt fairly comfortably. 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. 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 2 warning signs we've spotted with Avantor (including 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) .
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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
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.