Stock Analysis

We Think Compañía Cervecerías Unidas (SNSE:CCU) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

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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.' 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. Importantly, Compañía Cervecerías Unidas S.A. (SNSE:CCU) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

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How Much Debt Does Compañía Cervecerías Unidas Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2023 Compañía Cervecerías Unidas had debt of CL$1.31t, up from CL$1.22t in one year. However, it does have CL$591.8b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CL$720.5b.

SNSE:CCU Debt to Equity History September 22nd 2023

A Look At Compañía Cervecerías Unidas' Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Compañía Cervecerías Unidas had liabilities of CL$593.5b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CL$1.43t due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of CL$591.8b and CL$346.7b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling CL$1.09t more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Compañía Cervecerías Unidas has a market capitalization of CL$2.18t, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. 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.

Compañía Cervecerías Unidas's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.2 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 4.2 times last year. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Shareholders should be aware that Compañía Cervecerías Unidas's EBIT was down 28% last year. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Compañía Cervecerías Unidas'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.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Compañía Cervecerías Unidas recorded free cash flow of 33% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

Mulling over Compañía Cervecerías Unidas's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least its net debt to EBITDA is not so bad. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear to us that Compañía Cervecerías Unidas's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. 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. For example Compañía Cervecerías Unidas has 3 warning signs (and 1 which is potentially serious) we think you should know about.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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