Is Atlas Copco (STO:ATCO A) Using Too Much Debt?
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. We note that Atlas Copco AB (STO:ATCO A) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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 step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
Check out our latest analysis for Atlas Copco
What Is Atlas Copco's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2022 Atlas Copco had kr31.5b of debt, an increase on kr21.5b, over one year. On the flip side, it has kr11.3b in cash leading to net debt of about kr20.3b.
A Look At Atlas Copco's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Atlas Copco had liabilities of kr61.5b due within 12 months, and liabilities of kr30.8b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of kr11.3b and kr40.8b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling kr40.2b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Of course, Atlas Copco has a titanic market capitalization of kr566.8b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Atlas Copco has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.55. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 176 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Atlas Copco has boosted its EBIT by 30%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Atlas Copco'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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Atlas Copco produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 76% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
Happily, Atlas Copco's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Overall, we don't think Atlas Copco 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. Another factor that would give us confidence in Atlas Copco would be if insiders have been buying shares: if you're conscious of that signal too, you can find out instantly by clicking this link.
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.
About OM:ATCO A
Atlas Copco AB, together with its subsidiaries, provides productivity solutions North America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Oceania.
Outstanding track record with flawless balance sheet and pays a dividend.