Akzo Nobel (AMS:AKZA) Has A Pretty Healthy Balance Sheet

By
Simply Wall St
Published
May 11, 2022
ENXTAM:AKZA
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, Akzo Nobel N.V. (AMS:AKZA) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Akzo Nobel

What Is Akzo Nobel's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of March 2022, Akzo Nobel had €5.19b of debt, up from €2.91b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of €2.50b, its net debt is less, at about €2.69b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ENXTAM:AKZA Debt to Equity History May 11th 2022

How Strong Is Akzo Nobel's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Akzo Nobel had liabilities of €5.47b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €4.52b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €2.50b and €2.74b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total €4.75b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Akzo Nobel has a very large market capitalization of €14.1b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate 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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

Akzo Nobel's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.1 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 17.3 times, makes us even more comfortable. Sadly, Akzo Nobel's EBIT actually dropped 5.4% in the last year. If earnings continue on that decline then managing that debt will be difficult like delivering hot soup on a unicycle. 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 Akzo Nobel's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

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. During the last three years, Akzo Nobel produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 61% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

On our analysis Akzo Nobel's interest cover should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. 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 Akzo Nobel 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. 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. Be aware that Akzo Nobel is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those makes us a bit uncomfortable...

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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