BKW (VTX:BKW) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

Simply Wall St · 09/15/2023 04:59

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.' 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. We can see that BKW AG (VTX:BKW) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for BKW

How Much Debt Does BKW Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that BKW had debt of CHF1.93b at the end of June 2023, a reduction from CHF2.64b over a year. However, it also had CHF952.1m in cash, and so its net debt is CHF975.5m.

SWX:BKW Debt to Equity History September 15th 2023

How Strong Is BKW's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, BKW had liabilities of CHF2.17b due within 12 months, and liabilities of CHF4.06b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CHF952.1m as well as receivables valued at CHF1.25b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CHF4.03b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

BKW has a market capitalization of CHF8.70b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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.

BKW's net debt is only 0.75 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 17.6 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Even more impressive was the fact that BKW grew its EBIT by 142% over twelve months. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if BKW 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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, BKW recorded free cash flow of 38% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

The good news is that BKW's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But truth be told we feel its level of total liabilities does undermine this impression a bit. It's also worth noting that BKW is in the Electric Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that BKW takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for BKW you should be aware of.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.