Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding (OB:WWI) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

By
Simply Wall St
Published
September 25, 2021
OB:WWI
Source: Shutterstock

Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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. As with many other companies Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding ASA (OB:WWI) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding

What Is Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2021 Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding had debt of US$460.0m, up from US$436.0m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$340.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$120.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
OB:WWI Debt to Equity History September 26th 2021

How Healthy Is Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding had liabilities of US$576.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$600.0m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$340.0m in cash and US$177.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$659.0m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$915.8m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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). 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).

Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding's net debt is only 1.3 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 14.6 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. On the other hand, Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding saw its EBIT drop by 5.2% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue to decline at that rate the company may have increasing difficulty managing its debt load. 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 Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

Both Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding'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. On the other hand, its level of total liabilities makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding 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. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example - Wilh. Wilhelmsen Holding has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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