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Is KLA (NASDAQ:KLAC) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

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 KLA Corporation (NASDAQ:KLAC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for KLA

How Much Debt Does KLA Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of March 2019, KLA had US$3.42b of debt, up from US$2.46b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$1.90b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.53b.

NasdaqGS:KLAC Historical Debt, August 5th 2019

A Look At KLA's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that KLA had liabilities of US$1.70b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.60b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$1.90b in cash and US$1.05b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$3.36b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given KLA has a humongous market capitalization of US$21.5b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

KLA has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.92. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 20.4 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Fortunately, KLA grew its EBIT by 5.3% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. 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 KLA 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. Over the most recent three years, KLA recorded free cash flow worth 77% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

Happily, KLA's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Zooming out, KLA seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in KLA, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.