Stock Analysis

Here's Why Nobia (STO:NOBI) Has A Meaningful Debt Burden

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OM:NOBI
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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. Importantly, Nobia AB (publ) (STO:NOBI) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. 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 step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Nobia

What Is Nobia's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2022 Nobia had debt of kr2.18b, up from kr400.0m in one year. However, it also had kr340.0m in cash, and so its net debt is kr1.84b.

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OM:NOBI Debt to Equity History March 17th 2023

How Strong Is Nobia's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Nobia had liabilities of kr3.97b due within 12 months, and liabilities of kr4.09b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of kr340.0m and kr2.02b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total kr5.70b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the kr2.91b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Nobia would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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.

While Nobia has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 1.9, its interest cover seems weak, at 1.2. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. While companies often boast that these charges are non-cash, most such businesses will therefore require ongoing investment (that is not expensed.) In any case, it's safe to say the company has meaningful debt. Shareholders should be aware that Nobia's EBIT was down 83% last year. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. 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 Nobia 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. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Nobia generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 97% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

On the face of it, Nobia's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Nobia's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. In light of our reservations about the company's balance sheet, it seems sensible to check if insiders have been selling shares recently.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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