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.' 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. As with many other companies The Hershey Company (NYSE:HSY) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. 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. 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 thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
Our analysis indicates that HSY is potentially overvalued!
What Is Hershey's Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of October 2022, Hershey had US$4.82b of debt, up from US$4.43b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$327.7m in cash, and so its net debt is US$4.49b.
A Look At Hershey's Liabilities
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Hershey had liabilities of US$3.39b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$4.36b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$327.7m as well as receivables valued at US$929.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$6.49b.
Since publicly traded Hershey shares are worth a very impressive total of US$48.5b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.
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.
Hershey's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.8 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 16.7 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Hershey grew its EBIT by 8.7% in the last year. Whilst that hardly knocks our socks off it is a positive when it comes to debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Hershey'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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Hershey produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 79% 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.
Happily, Hershey's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Looking at the bigger picture, we think Hershey's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. 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. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for Hershey that you should be aware of before investing here.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.
Find out whether Hershey 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.View the Free Analysis
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
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.