Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Heineken N.V. (AMS:HEIA) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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 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. 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.
What Is Heineken's Net Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, Heineken had €16.6b of debt, up from €15.3b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of €1.75b, its net debt is less, at about €14.9b.
How Healthy Is Heineken's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Heineken had liabilities of €12.4b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €17.6b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €1.75b as well as receivables valued at €4.66b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €23.5b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Heineken has a very large market capitalization of €55.0b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Heineken has net debt to EBITDA of 2.9 suggesting it uses a fair bit of leverage to boost returns. On the plus side, its EBIT was 8.2 times its interest expense, and its net debt to EBITDA, was quite high, at 2.9. If Heineken can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 14% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Heineken'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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Heineken 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.
Both Heineken's ability to to convert EBIT to free cash flow and its EBIT growth rate gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. On the other hand, its net debt to EBITDA makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Heineken is managing its debt quite well. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Heineken insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
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.
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