Stock Analysis

Is NN (NASDAQ:NNBR) Using Too Much Debt?

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NasdaqGS:NNBR
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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.' 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 NN, Inc. (NASDAQ:NNBR) 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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.

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What Is NN's Net Debt?

As you can see below, NN had US$850.4m of debt, at September 2020, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have US$56.1m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$794.2m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:NNBR Debt to Equity History January 11th 2021

How Healthy Is NN's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, NN had liabilities of US$927.2m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$199.3m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$56.1m and US$101.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$969.3m.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$273.0m company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, NN would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (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).

Weak interest cover of 0.035 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 8.4 hit our confidence in NN like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. However, the silver lining was that NN achieved a positive EBIT of US$2.3m in the last twelve months, an improvement on the prior year's loss. 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 NN 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. In the last year, NN's free cash flow amounted to 50% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

On the face of it, NN's interest cover 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. Having said that, its ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow isn't such a worry. We're quite clear that we consider NN to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. 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. Take risks, for example - NN has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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What are the risks and opportunities for NN?

NN, Inc., a diversified industrial company, designs, manufactures, and sells high-precision components and assemblies.

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Rewards

  • Trading at 79.9% below our estimate of its fair value

  • Earnings have grown 3.5% per year over the past 5 years

Risks

  • Does not have a meaningful market cap ($97M)

  • Currently unprofitable and not forecast to become profitable over the next 3 years

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