Is Knorr-Bremse (ETR:KBX) Using Too Much Debt?

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who backed Charlie Munger) once said, ‘The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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. As with many other companies Knorr-Bremse Aktiengesellschaft (ETR:KBX) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free 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. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out the opportunities and risks within the DE Machinery industry.

What Is Knorr-Bremse’s Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2022, Knorr-Bremse had €2.50b of debt, up from €2.20ba year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of €1.40b, its net debt is less, at about €1.10b.

XTRA:KBX Debt to Equity History November 25th 2022

How Strong Is Knorr-Bremse’s Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Knorr-Bremse had liabilities of €2.84b due within a year, and falling liabilities of €2.74b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €1.40b and €1.73b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total €2.45b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Knorr-Bremse has a market capitalization of €8.79b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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). 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).

Knorr-Bremse’s net debt is only 1.2 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 113 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. It is just as well that Knorr-Bremse’s load is not too heavy, because its EBIT was down 23% over the last year. Falling earnings (if the trend continues) could eventually make even modest debt quite risky. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analyzing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Knorr-Bremse 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 taxman 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. During the last three years, Knorr-Bremse produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 52% of its EBIT, about what we’d expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.


Knorr-Bremse’s EBIT growth rate and level of total liabilities definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But the good news is it seems to be able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT with ease. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Knorr-Bremse is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analyzing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. We’ve identified 2 warning signs with Knorr-Bremse (at least 1 which can’t be ignored) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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% freeright now.

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

Find out whether Knorr-Bremse 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.

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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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