The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says '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 Coats Group plc (LON:COA) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Coats Group's Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Coats Group had US$254.3m in debt in December 2021; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has US$107.2m in cash leading to net debt of about US$147.1m.
How Strong Is Coats Group's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Coats Group had liabilities of US$456.4m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$470.8m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$107.2m and US$290.3m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$529.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn't so bad because Coats Group is worth US$1.49b, 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.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Coats Group's net debt is only 0.68 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 12.0 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. On top of that, Coats Group grew its EBIT by 81% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its 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 Coats Group'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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Coats Group produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 51% 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 Coats Group's demonstrated ability to grow its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news does not stop there, as its interest cover also supports that impression! Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Coats Group takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Coats Group .
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.
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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.