Does Kellanova (NYSE:K) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

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.’ 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. Importantly, Kellanova (NYSE:K) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for Kellanova

What Is Kellanova’s Debt?

As you can see below, Kellanova had US$6.02b of debt at March 2024, down from US$6.89b a year prior. However, it does have US$251.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$5.77b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:K Debt to Equity History May 22nd 2024

How Strong Is Kellanova’s Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Kellanova had liabilities of US$5.53b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$6.51b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$251.0m in cash and US$1.67b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$10.1b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit isn’t so bad because Kellanova is worth a massive US$21.2b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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). 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).

Kellanova has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.1 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 6.8 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn’t want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. It is well worth noting that Kellanova’s EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 58% in the last twelve months. That’ll make it easier to manage its debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Kellanova’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you’re focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

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. Over the most recent three years, Kellanova recorded free cash flow worth 78% 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

The good news is that Kellanova’s demonstrated ability to grow its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its net debt to EBITDA. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Kellanova is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example – Kellanova has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we’re helping make it simple.

Find out whether Kellanova is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

View the Free Analysis

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.

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