Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. 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 and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. 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. 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.
What Is Sweco's Net Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Sweco had kr1.81b of debt in December 2021, down from kr3.03b, one year before. On the flip side, it has kr896.0m in cash leading to net debt of about kr913.0m.
How Healthy Is Sweco's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Sweco had liabilities of kr6.49b due within a year, and liabilities of kr4.56b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had kr896.0m in cash and kr6.97b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by kr3.19b.
Since publicly traded Sweco shares are worth a total of kr50.0b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Sweco has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.37. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 25.2 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Also good is that Sweco grew its EBIT at 12% 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 it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Sweco'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. Happily for any shareholders, Sweco actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.
Sweco's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that Sweco is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. 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.
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.