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. 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. As with many other companies Royal Unibrew A/S (CPH:RBREW) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of ‘creative destruction’ where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well – and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Royal Unibrew Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Royal Unibrew had ø2.57b in debt in September 2019; about the same as the year before. However, it does have ø115.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about ø2.46b.
A Look At Royal Unibrew’s Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Royal Unibrew had liabilities of ø2.80b due within 12 months, and liabilities of ø2.86b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of ø115.0m as well as receivables valued at ø804.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ø4.74b.
Of course, Royal Unibrew has a market capitalization of ø30.1b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. Having said that, it’s clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Royal Unibrew has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.4. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 41.6 times the size. So we’re pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Also good is that Royal Unibrew grew its EBIT at 11% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage debt. 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 Royal Unibrew’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. During the last three years, Royal Unibrew produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 76% of its EBIT, about what we’d expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
The good news is that Royal Unibrew’s demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that’s just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Looking at the bigger picture, we think Royal Unibrew’s use of debt seems quite reasonable and we’re not concerned about it. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we’ve spotted with Royal Unibrew .
If, after all that, you’re more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.
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