Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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. As with many other companies Linde plc (NYSE:LIN) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
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 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Linde's Net Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Linde had US$14.7b of debt in March 2021, down from US$16.7b, one year before. However, it also had US$4.10b in cash, and so its net debt is US$10.6b.
A Look At Linde's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Linde had liabilities of US$15.0b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$22.3b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$4.10b as well as receivables valued at US$4.28b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$29.0b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Of course, Linde has a titanic market capitalization of US$150.9b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
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.
Linde's net debt is only 1.2 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 24.8 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Another good sign is that Linde has been able to increase its EBIT by 21% in twelve months, making it easier to pay down debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Linde 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Linde recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 88% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Linde's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. 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, Linde 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. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for Linde you should know about.
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.
When trading Linde or any other investment, use the platform considered by many to be the Professional's Gateway to the Worlds Market, Interactive Brokers. You get the lowest-cost* trading on stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds worldwide from a single integrated account. Promoted
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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.
*Interactive Brokers Rated Lowest Cost Broker by StockBrokers.com Annual Online Review 2020
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.