David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. As with many other companies Smurfit Kappa Group Plc (ISE:SK3) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Smurfit Kappa Group Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Smurfit Kappa Group had debt of €2.85b at the end of June 2021, a reduction from €3.54b over a year. However, it also had €621.0m in cash, and so its net debt is €2.23b.
A Look At Smurfit Kappa Group's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Smurfit Kappa Group had liabilities of €2.36b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €4.02b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of €621.0m and €1.90b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €3.85b.
This deficit isn't so bad because Smurfit Kappa Group is worth a massive €12.4b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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.
With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.6, Smurfit Kappa Group uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the alluring interest cover (EBIT of 7.9 times interest expense) certainly does not do anything to dispel this impression. Smurfit Kappa Group's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year, but that shouldn't be an issue given the it doesn't have a lot of debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Smurfit Kappa 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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Smurfit Kappa Group recorded free cash flow worth 58% 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.
Both Smurfit Kappa Group's ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. Having said that, its level of total liabilities somewhat sensitizes us to potential future risks to the balance sheet. Considering this range of data points, we think Smurfit Kappa Group is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. 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 example, we've discovered 3 warning signs for Smurfit Kappa Group that you should be aware of before investing here.
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.
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