Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Sika AG (VTX:SIKA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Sika's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Sika had debt of CHF3.40b at the end of December 2021, a reduction from CHF3.86b over a year. On the flip side, it has CHF1.18b in cash leading to net debt of about CHF2.22b.
How Strong Is Sika's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Sika had liabilities of CHF2.09b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CHF4.22b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of CHF1.18b and CHF1.59b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling CHF3.54b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded Sika shares are worth a very impressive total of CHF40.6b, 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.
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).
Sika's net debt is only 1.3 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 30.7 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Also positive, Sika grew its EBIT by 23% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Sika'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 clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Sika recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 88% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Sika's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that Sika 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Sika you should know about.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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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.