We Think Atkore (NYSE:ATKR) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

Atkore International Group Inc. -4.96%

Atkore International Group Inc.




Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Atkore Inc. (NYSE:ATKR) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Atkore

What Is Atkore's Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Atkore had US$763.2m in debt in December 2023; about the same as the year before. However, it does have US$380.9m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$382.3m.

NYSE:ATKR Debt to Equity History April 29th 2024

A Look At Atkore's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Atkore had liabilities of US$505.4m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$927.7m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$380.9m as well as receivables valued at US$517.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$534.5m.

Since publicly traded Atkore shares are worth a total of US$6.73b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.

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.

Atkore's net debt is only 0.40 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 25.0 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. It is just as well that Atkore's load is not too heavy, because its EBIT was down 30% over the last year. Falling earnings (if the trend continues) could eventually make even modest debt quite risky. 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 Atkore 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Atkore produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 59% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Atkore's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better. In particular, we are dazzled with its interest cover. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Atkore is managing its debt quite well. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Atkore (of which 1 makes us a bit uncomfortable!) you should know about.

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.

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