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Is Whirlpool (NYSE:WHR) Using Too Much Debt?

Simply Wall St ·  Jun 11 08:15

Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. Importantly, Whirlpool Corporation (NYSE:WHR) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. 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.

How Much Debt Does Whirlpool Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Whirlpool had US$7.67b in debt in March 2024; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$1.23b, its net debt is less, at about US$6.44b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:WHR Debt to Equity History June 11th 2024

How Healthy Is Whirlpool's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Whirlpool had liabilities of US$6.55b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$8.21b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.23b as well as receivables valued at US$1.71b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$11.8b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$4.82b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Whirlpool would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Whirlpool's debt is 4.7 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.2 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. More concerning, Whirlpool saw its EBIT drop by 5.5% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues the company will face an uphill battle to pay off 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 Whirlpool'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 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. In the last three years, Whirlpool's free cash flow amounted to 40% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

We'd go so far as to say Whirlpool's level of total liabilities was disappointing. Having said that, its ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow isn't such a worry. Overall, it seems to us that Whirlpool's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 3 warning signs with Whirlpool (at least 2 which are a bit unpleasant) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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.

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.

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