Stock Analysis

Is Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) Using Too Much Debt?

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NYSE:KMB
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 note that Kimberly-Clark Corporation (NYSE:KMB) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is Kimberly-Clark's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Kimberly-Clark had US$8.35b of debt in June 2023, down from US$8.99b, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$580.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$7.77b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:KMB Debt to Equity History October 6th 2023

A Look At Kimberly-Clark's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Kimberly-Clark had liabilities of US$6.60b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$10.1b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$580.0m in cash and US$2.36b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$13.8b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Kimberly-Clark has a huge market capitalization of US$40.1b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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).

Kimberly-Clark's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.1 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 10.7 times, makes us even more comfortable. Kimberly-Clark grew its EBIT by 9.9% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. 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 Kimberly-Clark 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Kimberly-Clark recorded free cash flow worth 64% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that Kimberly-Clark's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Kimberly-Clark can handle its debt fairly comfortably. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 4 warning signs for Kimberly-Clark you should be aware of.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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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.