Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. As with many other companies NEXT plc (LON:NXT) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. 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.
What Is NEXT's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that NEXT had UK£1.20b in debt in July 2021; about the same as the year before. However, it does have UK£758.6m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about UK£445.7m.
How Healthy Is NEXT's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that NEXT had liabilities of UK£1.27b due within a year, and liabilities of UK£1.84b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of UK£758.6m as well as receivables valued at UK£1.13b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling UK£1.22b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Of course, NEXT has a titanic market capitalization of UK£10.4b, 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.
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.
With net debt sitting at just 0.54 times EBITDA, NEXT is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And it boasts interest cover of 7.3 times, which is more than adequate. In addition to that, we're happy to report that NEXT has boosted its EBIT by 41%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if NEXT can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, NEXT actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
The good news is that NEXT's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. Overall, we don't think NEXT is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So we're not worried about the use of a little leverage on the balance sheet. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with NEXT .
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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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.