These 4 Measures Indicate That Greif (NYSE:GEF) Is Using Debt Extensively

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 27, 2021
NYSE:GEF
Source: Shutterstock

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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. We can see that Greif, Inc. (NYSE:GEF) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Greif

What Is Greif's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Greif had debt of US$2.28b at the end of July 2021, a reduction from US$2.69b over a year. However, it does have US$99.8m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$2.18b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:GEF Debt to Equity History November 28th 2021

How Strong Is Greif's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Greif had liabilities of US$1.24b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$2.96b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$99.8m as well as receivables valued at US$834.7m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$3.26b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's US$3.26b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Greif's debt is 3.1 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.6 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Greif grew its EBIT by 7.2% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Greif 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 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 most recent three years, Greif recorded free cash flow worth 64% 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

Greif's struggle to handle its total liabilities had us second guessing its balance sheet strength, but the other data-points we considered were relatively redeeming. For example, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is relatively strong. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that Greif is taking some risks with its use of debt. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Greif you should be aware of.

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.

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