Warren Buffett famously said, '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. We can see that Lenzing Aktiengesellschaft (VIE:LNZ) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. 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.
How Much Debt Does Lenzing Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2021 Lenzing had debt of €2.06b, up from €1.39b in one year. On the flip side, it has €1.24b in cash leading to net debt of about €820.3m.
How Strong Is Lenzing's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Lenzing had liabilities of €694.7m due within 12 months and liabilities of €2.31b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €1.24b in cash and €321.9m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €1.45b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Lenzing has a market capitalization of €3.53b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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.
Lenzing has net debt worth 2.3 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 6.9 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. Pleasingly, Lenzing is growing its EBIT faster than former Australian PM Bob Hawke downs a yard glass, boasting a 827% gain in the last twelve months. 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 Lenzing's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Lenzing saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
Neither Lenzing's ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But its EBIT growth rate tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Lenzing is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Lenzing (of which 1 can't be ignored!) 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.
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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.