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 note that thyssenkrupp AG (ETR:TKA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is thyssenkrupp's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 thyssenkrupp had debt of €7.93b, up from €6.94b in one year. However, it does have €3.55b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €4.38b.
How Strong Is thyssenkrupp's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that thyssenkrupp had liabilities of €18.7b due within a year, and liabilities of €15.1b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of €3.55b and €7.92b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling €22.3b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the €7.65b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet." So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, thyssenkrupp would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment. 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 thyssenkrupp 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.
Over 12 months, thyssenkrupp made a loss at the EBIT level, and saw its revenue drop to €35b, which is a fall of 11%. We would much prefer see growth.
While thyssenkrupp's falling revenue is about as heartwarming as a wet blanket, arguably its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) loss is even less appealing. Indeed, it lost €306m at the EBIT level. Combining this information with the significant liabilities we already touched on makes us very hesitant about this stock, to say the least. Of course, it may be able to improve its situation with a bit of luck and good execution. Nevertheless, we would not bet on it given that it vaporized €749m in cash over the last twelve months, and it doesn't have much by way of liquid assets. So we consider this a high risk stock and we wouldn't be at all surprised if the company asks shareholders for money before long. For riskier companies like thyssenkrupp I always like to keep an eye on the long term profit and revenue trends. Fortunately, you can click to see our interactive graph of its profit, revenue, and operating cashflow.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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