Is Packaging Corporation of America (NYSE:PKG) A Risky Investment?

Packaging Corporation of America -0.97% Pre

Packaging Corporation of America

PKG

179.16

179.16

-0.97%

0.00% Pre

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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. Importantly, Packaging Corporation of America (NYSE:PKG) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Packaging Corporation of America

What Is Packaging Corporation of America's Debt?

As you can see below, Packaging Corporation of America had US$2.48b of debt, at September 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$677.2m, its net debt is less, at about US$1.80b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:PKG Debt to Equity History November 29th 2023

How Healthy Is Packaging Corporation of America's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Packaging Corporation of America had liabilities of US$1.28b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$3.01b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$677.2m in cash and US$1.05b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$2.57b.

Of course, Packaging Corporation of America has a titanic market capitalization of US$14.1b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Packaging Corporation of America has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.1. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 20.2 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. In fact Packaging Corporation of America's saving grace is its low debt levels, because its EBIT has tanked 26% in the last twelve months. When a company sees its earnings tank, it can sometimes find its relationships with its lenders turn sour. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Packaging Corporation of America 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. In the last three years, Packaging Corporation of America's free cash flow amounted to 50% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

Based on what we've seen Packaging Corporation of America is not finding it easy, given its EBIT growth rate, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. There's no doubt that its ability to 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 Packaging Corporation of America's use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Packaging Corporation of America .

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.

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