Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, '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. We note that LSI Industries Inc. (NASDAQ:LYTS) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does LSI Industries Carry?
As you can see below, LSI Industries had US$43.8m of debt, at March 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$1.69m, its net debt is less, at about US$42.1m.
How Strong Is LSI Industries's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, LSI Industries had liabilities of US$42.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$45.7m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.69m as well as receivables valued at US$53.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$33.2m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since LSI Industries has a market capitalization of US$106.9m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
While we wouldn't worry about LSI Industries's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.9, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.9 times is a sign of high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. Worse, LSI Industries's EBIT was down 54% over the last year. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. 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 LSI Industries'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.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, LSI Industries actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
LSI Industries's EBIT growth rate and interest cover definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that LSI Industries is taking some risks with its use of debt. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if LSI Industries insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.
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.
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