Stock Analysis

We Think Hershey (NYSE:HSY) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

NYSE:HSY
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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. We note that The Hershey Company (NYSE:HSY) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Hershey

What Is Hershey's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Hershey had debt of US$4.63b at the end of April 2023, a reduction from US$4.90b over a year. On the flip side, it has US$460.3m in cash leading to net debt of about US$4.17b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:HSY Debt to Equity History June 22nd 2023

How Strong Is Hershey's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Hershey had liabilities of US$3.28b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$4.37b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$460.3m as well as receivables valued at US$856.8m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$6.34b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given Hershey has a humongous market capitalization of US$52.9b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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). 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).

Hershey's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.5 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 16.4 times, makes us even more comfortable. Fortunately, Hershey grew its EBIT by 4.6% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. 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 Hershey 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Hershey recorded free cash flow worth 78% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

The good news is that Hershey's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Zooming out, Hershey seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 2 warning signs with Hershey , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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.

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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.