Does Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

Coca-Cola Company -0.73% Post

Coca-Cola Company

KO

62.57

62.54

-0.73%

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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that '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 The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. 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 Coca-Cola

What Is Coca-Cola's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2023 Coca-Cola had debt of US$43.2b, up from US$40.8b in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$13.7b, its net debt is less, at about US$29.5b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:KO Debt to Equity History March 30th 2024

How Healthy Is Coca-Cola's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Coca-Cola had liabilities of US$23.6b due within a year, and liabilities of US$46.7b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$13.7b as well as receivables valued at US$3.41b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$53.2b.

This deficit isn't so bad because Coca-Cola is worth a massive US$263.8b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up 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.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Coca-Cola's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.0 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 32.3 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Coca-Cola grew its EBIT by 7.9% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Coca-Cola'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, Coca-Cola generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 82% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Happily, Coca-Cola's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Coca-Cola is pretty sensible with its use of debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Be aware that Coca-Cola is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , you should know about...

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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