Stock Analysis

We Think Nucor (NYSE:NUE) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

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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 Nucor Corporation (NYSE:NUE) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Nucor

How Much Debt Does Nucor Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of December 2022, Nucor had US$6.67b of debt, up from US$5.65b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$4.86b in cash, and so its net debt is US$1.81b.

NYSE:NUE Debt to Equity History March 15th 2023

A Look At Nucor's Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Nucor had liabilities of US$4.33b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$8.58b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$4.86b in cash and US$4.16b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$3.90b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Since publicly traded Nucor shares are worth a very impressive total of US$39.4b, 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). 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).

Nucor has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.16. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 61.2 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. And we also note warmly that Nucor grew its EBIT by 12% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. 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 Nucor's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

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. During the last three years, Nucor produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 65% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that Nucor'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 net debt to EBITDA also supports that impression! Zooming out, Nucor seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example Nucor has 2 warning signs (and 1 which is concerning) we think you should know about.

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.

What are the risks and opportunities for Nucor?

Nucor Corporation engages in manufacture and sale of steel and steel products.

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  • Price-To-Earnings ratio (4.9x) is below the US market (14.6x)

  • Earnings grew by 11.5% over the past year


  • Earnings are forecast to decline by an average of 43.9% per year for the next 3 years

  • Significant insider selling over the past 3 months

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