Stock Analysis

Is HNI (NYSE:HNI) A Risky Investment?

NYSE:HNI
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David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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 HNI Corporation (NYSE:HNI) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for HNI

How Much Debt Does HNI Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of October 2022, HNI had US$200.9m of debt, up from US$177.9m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$23.1m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$177.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:HNI Debt to Equity History February 6th 2023

A Look At HNI's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that HNI had liabilities of US$460.4m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$431.8m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$23.1m as well as receivables valued at US$244.2m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$624.9m.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since HNI has a market capitalization of US$1.34b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. 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.

HNI's net debt is only 1.1 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 12.5 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. On the other hand, HNI's EBIT dived 10%, over the last year. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. 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 want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. 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 89% 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

Both HNI's ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. On the other hand, its EBIT growth rate makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think HNI is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. 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. For example HNI has 3 warning signs (and 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) we think 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.

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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.