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 seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. As with many other companies The Timken Company (NYSE:TKR) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Timken's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Timken had debt of US$1.60b at the end of March 2021, a reduction from US$1.96b over a year. However, it does have US$302.3m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.30b.
How Healthy Is Timken's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Timken had liabilities of US$916.8m due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.94b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$302.3m as well as receivables valued at US$825.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$1.73b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Timken has a market capitalization of US$6.09b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Timken's net debt of 1.9 times EBITDA suggests graceful use of debt. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 8.3 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. Notably Timken's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year. We would prefer to see some earnings growth, because that always helps diminish debt. 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 Timken 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 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. During the last three years, Timken produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 76% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
Timken's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And its interest cover is good too. All these things considered, it appears that Timken can comfortably handle its current debt levels. 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. 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. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for Timken that you should be aware of before investing here.
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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