Is Kerry Group (ISE:KRZ) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 27, 2021
ISE:KRZ
Source: Shutterstock

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.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, Kerry Group plc (ISE:KRZ) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Kerry Group

What Is Kerry Group's Debt?

As you can see below, Kerry Group had €2.35b of debt at June 2021, down from €2.84b a year prior. However, it does have €395.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €1.95b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ISE:KRZ Debt to Equity History December 27th 2021

How Strong Is Kerry Group's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Kerry Group had liabilities of €1.92b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €2.92b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of €395.0m and €1.18b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €3.26b.

Given Kerry Group has a humongous market capitalization of €20.1b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. 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.

Kerry Group's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.0 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 11.0 times, makes us even more comfortable. Notably Kerry Group's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year. We would prefer to see some earnings growth, because that always helps diminish debt. 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 Kerry Group 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Kerry Group recorded free cash flow worth 50% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

On our analysis Kerry Group's interest cover should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to grow its EBIT. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Kerry Group is managing its debt quite well. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Kerry Group insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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