Stock Analysis

Is Huhtamäki Oyj (HEL:HUH1V) Using Too Much Debt?

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HLSE:HUH1V
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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.' 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 can see that Huhtamäki Oyj (HEL:HUH1V) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Our analysis indicates that HUH1V is potentially undervalued!

What Is Huhtamäki Oyj's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2022 Huhtamäki Oyj had €1.88b of debt, an increase on €1.68b, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of €323.8m, its net debt is less, at about €1.55b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
HLSE:HUH1V Debt to Equity History December 2nd 2022

How Strong Is Huhtamäki Oyj's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Huhtamäki Oyj had liabilities of €1.49b due within 12 months and liabilities of €1.82b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €323.8m in cash and €986.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €2.00b.

This deficit isn't so bad because Huhtamäki Oyj is worth €3.46b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Huhtamäki Oyj's net debt is 2.6 times its EBITDA, which is a significant but still reasonable amount of leverage. But its EBIT was about 12.2 times its interest expense, implying the company isn't really paying a high cost to maintain that level of debt. Even were the low cost to prove unsustainable, that is a good sign. It is well worth noting that Huhtamäki Oyj's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 43% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. 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 Huhtamäki Oyj'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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. In the last three years, Huhtamäki Oyj's free cash flow amounted to 21% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

Huhtamäki Oyj's interest cover was a real positive on this analysis, as was its EBIT growth rate. On the other hand, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think Huhtamäki Oyj is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. 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. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Huhtamäki Oyj (1 doesn't sit too well with us) 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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Find out whether Huhtamäki Oyj is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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