David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. We note that NXP Semiconductors N.V. (NASDAQ:NXPI) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is NXP Semiconductors's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that NXP Semiconductors had US$7.36b in debt in December 2020; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$2.28b, its net debt is less, at about US$5.09b.
How Healthy Is NXP Semiconductors' Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, NXP Semiconductors had liabilities of US$2.02b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$8.68b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$2.28b and US$765.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$7.66b.
Since publicly traded NXP Semiconductors shares are worth a very impressive total of US$50.9b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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.
Even though NXP Semiconductors's debt is only 2.0, its interest cover is really very low at 1.5. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. While companies often boast that these charges are non-cash, most such businesses will therefore require ongoing investment (that is not expensed.) Either way there's no doubt the stock is using meaningful leverage. Unfortunately, NXP Semiconductors's EBIT flopped 20% over the last four quarters. If that sort of decline is not arrested, then the managing its debt will be harder than selling broccoli flavoured ice-cream for a premium. 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 NXP Semiconductors can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, NXP Semiconductors actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.
NXP Semiconductors's EBIT growth rate and interest cover definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that NXP Semiconductors is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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 NXP Semiconductors has 5 warning signs (and 1 which shouldn't be ignored) we think you should know about.
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.
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