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. As with many other companies Jacobson Pharma Corporation Limited (HKG:2633) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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 frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does Jacobson Pharma Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Jacobson Pharma had debt of HK$1.30b at the end of March 2019, a reduction from HK$1.35b over a year. However, because it has a cash reserve of HK$689.3m, its net debt is less, at about HK$607.3m.
How Strong Is Jacobson Pharma's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Jacobson Pharma had liabilities of HK$1.05b due within a year, and liabilities of HK$519.1m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of HK$689.3m and HK$219.8m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling HK$664.4m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Jacobson Pharma has a market capitalization of HK$2.40b, 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).
Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 1.3 and interest cover of 5.6 times, it seems to us that Jacobson Pharma is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. We note that Jacobson Pharma grew its EBIT by 23% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Jacobson Pharma 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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Jacobson Pharma recorded free cash flow worth 66% 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.
The good news is that Jacobson Pharma's demonstrated ability to grow its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Jacobson Pharma takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Jacobson Pharma insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you're in luck, since today we're sharing our list of reported insider transactions for free.
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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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.