Stock Analysis

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

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NasdaqGS:INTC
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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. As with many other companies Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is Intel's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Intel had US$35.4b of debt, at July 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$27.0b, its net debt is less, at about US$8.39b.

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NasdaqGS:INTC Debt to Equity History September 1st 2022

How Healthy Is Intel's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Intel had liabilities of US$27.2b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$42.0b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$27.0b and US$6.54b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$35.6b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Intel has a huge market capitalization of US$131.1b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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.

Intel's net debt is only 0.33 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 43.3 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. The modesty of its debt load may become crucial for Intel if management cannot prevent a repeat of the 44% cut to EBIT over the last year. When a company sees its earnings tank, it can sometimes find its relationships with its lenders turn sour. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Intel 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Intel produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 59% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

Intel's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better. There's no doubt that its ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT is pretty flash. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Intel's use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for Intel (1 is significant!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

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.

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