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.’ 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, Papa John’s International, Inc. (NASDAQ:PZZA) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Papa John’s International’s Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Papa John’s International had US$348.5m of debt in March 2021, down from US$363.2m, one year before. On the flip side, it has US$171.3m in cash leading to net debt of about US$177.3m.
How Strong Is Papa John’s International’s Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Papa John’s International had liabilities of US$291.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$608.6m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$171.3m and US$87.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$641.6m.
Given Papa John’s International has a market capitalization of US$3.45b, it’s hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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.
Papa John’s International has net debt of just 0.98 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 9.0 times the interest expense over the last year. Better yet, Papa John’s International grew its EBIT by 298% last year, which is an impressive improvement. If maintained that growth will make the debt even more manageable in the years ahead. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Papa John’s International 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Papa John’s International actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
Papa John’s International’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. And that’s just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that Papa John’s International is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. 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.