Stock Analysis

Is Sonoco Products (NYSE:SON) Using Too Much Debt?

NYSE:SON
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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that '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. As with many other companies Sonoco Products Company (NYSE:SON) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Sonoco Products

What Is Sonoco Products's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Sonoco Products had US$3.06b in debt in April 2023; about the same as the year before. However, it does have US$209.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$2.85b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:SON Debt to Equity History May 8th 2023

How Strong Is Sonoco Products' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Sonoco Products had liabilities of US$1.61b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$3.25b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$209.7m as well as receivables valued at US$993.0m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$3.65b.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$5.89b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Sonoco Products' use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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.

Sonoco Products has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.7 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 6.8 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Notably, Sonoco Products's EBIT launched higher than Elon Musk, gaining a whopping 1,606% on last year. 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 Sonoco Products'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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Sonoco Products recorded free cash flow worth 54% 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

On our analysis Sonoco Products's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think Sonoco Products is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. 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 - Sonoco Products has 1 warning sign we think 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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Sonoco Products is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.