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 might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We can see that Knowles Corporation (NYSE:KN) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Knowles's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Knowles had debt of US$171.8m at the end of September 2021, a reduction from US$213.0m over a year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$140.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$31.8m.
How Healthy Is Knowles' Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Knowles had liabilities of US$313.5m due within a year, and liabilities of US$43.6m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$140.0m and US$129.8m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$87.3m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded Knowles shares are worth a total of US$2.06b, 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.
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.
Knowles has net debt of just 0.18 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 7.2 times the interest expense over the last year. Even more impressive was the fact that Knowles grew its EBIT by 163% over twelve months. If maintained that growth will make the debt even more manageable in the years ahead. 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 Knowles 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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Knowles actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
The good news is that Knowles's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Overall, we don't think Knowles is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. We'd be very excited to see if Knowles insiders have been snapping up shares. If you are too, then click on this link right now to take a (free) peek at our list of reported insider transactions.
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.
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.