February 28, 2024

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.' 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 Carter's, Inc. (NYSE:CRI) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
View our latest analysis for Carter's
As you can see below, Carter's had US$616.3m of debt at July 2022, down from US$990.4m a year prior. On the flip side, it has US$231.3m in cash leading to net debt of about US$384.9m.
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Carter's had liabilities of US$647.1m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$1.11b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$231.3m in cash and US$183.9m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.34b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Carter's has a market capitalization of US$3.27b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate 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). 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).
Carter's has net debt of just 0.73 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 8.5 times the interest expense over the last year. But the other side of the story is that Carter's saw its EBIT decline by 3.6% over the last year. That sort of decline, if sustained, will obviously make debt harder to handle. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Carter's 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.
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. Over the most recent three years, Carter's recorded free cash flow worth 75% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
Happily, Carter's's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But truth be told we feel its EBIT growth rate does undermine this impression a bit. All these things considered, it appears that Carter's can comfortably handle its current debt levels. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Carter's .
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
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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Carter's, Inc., together with its subsidiaries, designs, sources, and markets branded childrenswear under the Carter's, OshKosh, Skip Hop, Child of Mine, Just One You, Simple Joys, Carter’s My First Love, little planet, and other brands in the United States and internationally.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Excellent balance sheet with acceptable track record.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
Carter's, Inc., together with its subsidiaries, designs, sources, and markets branded childrenswear under the Carter's, OshKosh, Skip Hop, Child of Mine, Just One You, Simple Joys, Carter’s My First Love, little planet, and other brands in the United States and internationally.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Excellent balance sheet with acceptable track record.
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