Is PerkinElmer (NYSE:PKI) A Risky Investment?

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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 PerkinElmer, Inc. (NYSE:PKI) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. 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. The first step when considering a company’s debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for PerkinElmer

What Is PerkinElmer’s Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of July 2022, PerkinElmer had US$4.49b of debt, up from US$2.35b a year ago. Click the image for more details. However, it also had US$360.9m in cash, and so its net debt is US$4.13b.

NYSE:PKI Debt to Equity History August 27th 2022

How Healthy Is PerkinElmer’s Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that PerkinElmer had liabilities of US$1.04b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$5.98b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$360.9m and US$932.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totaling US$5.73b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

PerkinElmer has a very large market capitalization of US$17.4b, so it could very likely raise cash to improve its balance sheet, if the need arises. 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).

We’d say that PerkinElmer’s moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio (being 2.4), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 12.7 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Importantly, PerkinElmer’s EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 20% ​​in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analyzing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine PerkinElmer’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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, PerkinElmer generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 82% of its EBIT, more than we’d expected. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Based on what we’ve seen PerkinElmer is not finding it easy, given its EBIT growth rate, but the other factors we considered give us reason to be optimistic. There’s no doubt that its ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT is pretty flash. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about PerkinElmer’s use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we’d suggest that shareholders keep a close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analyzing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. Be aware that PerkinElmer is showing 4 warning signs in our investment analysis you should know about…

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.

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 into account 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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