Stock Analysis

Here's Why HNI (NYSE:HNI) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

NYSE:HNI
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. Importantly, HNI Corporation (NYSE:HNI) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. 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.

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What Is HNI's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of July 2023 HNI had US$598.2m of debt, an increase on US$310.4m, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$29.5m in cash leading to net debt of about US$568.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:HNI Debt to Equity History August 10th 2023

How Healthy Is HNI's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that HNI had liabilities of US$489.4m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$870.9m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$29.5m in cash and US$190.4m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$1.14b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$1.51b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on HNI's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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).

With net debt to EBITDA of 3.4 HNI has a fairly noticeable amount of debt. But the high interest coverage of 8.5 suggests it can easily service that debt. If HNI can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 13% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine HNI'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. Over the last three years, HNI recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 81% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for HNI was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to handle its total liabilities. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that HNI is managing its debt quite well. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 3 warning signs for HNI you should know about.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether HNI is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.