Stock Analysis

Is Saab (STO:SAAB B) A Risky Investment?

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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 can see that Saab AB (publ) (STO:SAAB B) does use debt in its business. 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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

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What Is Saab's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Saab had kr7.22b in debt in December 2022; about the same as the year before. However, its balance sheet shows it holds kr13.3b in cash, so it actually has kr6.06b net cash.

OM:SAAB B Debt to Equity History March 18th 2023

How Strong Is Saab's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Saab had liabilities of kr28.4b due within a year, and liabilities of kr14.1b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of kr13.3b and kr17.3b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling kr11.9b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Of course, Saab has a market capitalization of kr77.1b, 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. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Saab boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

Also good is that Saab grew its EBIT at 11% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage 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 Saab can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. Saab may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Over the last three years, Saab actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Summing Up

While Saab does have more liabilities than liquid assets, it also has net cash of kr6.06b. The cherry on top was that in converted 119% of that EBIT to free cash flow, bringing in kr2.3b. So we don't think Saab's use of debt is risky. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for Saab you should know about.

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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