Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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, Evonik Industries AG (ETR:EVK) 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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.
How Much Debt Does Evonik Industries Carry?
As you can see below, Evonik Industries had €3.90b of debt, at June 2020, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has €1.81b in cash leading to net debt of about €2.09b.
A Look At Evonik Industries's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Evonik Industries had liabilities of €3.42b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €9.34b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €1.81b as well as receivables valued at €1.68b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €9.3b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This is a mountain of leverage even relative to its gargantuan market capitalization of €10.8b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Evonik Industries has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.1. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 11.0 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. But the bad news is that Evonik Industries has seen its EBIT plunge 13% in the last twelve months. If that rate of decline in earnings continues, the company could find itself in a tight spot. 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 Evonik Industries 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 most recent three years, Evonik Industries recorded free cash flow worth 57% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Neither Evonik Industries's ability to grow its EBIT nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT with ease. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that Evonik Industries is taking some risks with its use of debt. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Evonik Industries you should be aware of.
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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