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. We can see that Sweco AB (publ) (STO:SWEC B) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Sweco's Debt?
As you can see below, Sweco had kr2.54b of debt at September 2021, down from kr3.16b a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of kr424.0m, its net debt is less, at about kr2.12b.
How Healthy Is Sweco's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Sweco had liabilities of kr6.11b due within 12 months and liabilities of kr5.08b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of kr424.0m and kr7.07b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total kr3.70b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Of course, Sweco has a market capitalization of kr55.3b, 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.
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).
Sweco's net debt is only 1.0 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 25.4 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. But the bad news is that Sweco has seen its EBIT plunge 17% in the last twelve months. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Sweco 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Sweco actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.
The good news is that Sweco's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But we must concede we find its EBIT growth rate has the opposite effect. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Sweco can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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 1 warning sign for Sweco that you should be aware of before investing here.
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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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.