Linde (NYSE:LIN) Seems To Use Debt Rather Sparingly

By
Simply Wall St
Published
February 23, 2022
NYSE:LIN
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We can see that Linde plc (NYSE:LIN) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Linde

How Much Debt Does Linde Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Linde had US$14.2b of debt in December 2021, down from US$16.2b, one year before. On the flip side, it has US$2.82b in cash leading to net debt of about US$11.4b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:LIN Debt to Equity History February 23rd 2022

How Strong Is Linde's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Linde had liabilities of US$13.6b due within a year, and liabilities of US$22.5b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$2.82b in cash and US$4.63b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$28.7b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Since publicly traded Linde shares are worth a very impressive total of US$149.0b, 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.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Linde has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.1. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 71.6 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. On top of that, Linde grew its EBIT by 34% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Linde's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Linde actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

Happily, Linde'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. Overall, we don't think Linde is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So we're not worried about the use of a little leverage on the balance sheet. 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. For example - Linde has 1 warning sign we think 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.

Discounted cash flow calculation for every stock

Simply Wall St does a detailed discounted cash flow calculation every 6 hours for every stock on the market, so if you want to find the intrinsic value of any company just search here. It’s FREE.

Make Confident Investment Decisions

Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.