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 might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Tubacex, S.A. (BME:TUB) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. 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. 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 think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Tubacex's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 Tubacex had debt of €472.7m, up from €384.6m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of €199.8m, its net debt is less, at about €272.9m.
How Strong Is Tubacex's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Tubacex had liabilities of €607.8m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €178.4m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €199.8m as well as receivables valued at €113.6m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €472.8m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's €341.6m market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet, just like one might study a new partner's social media. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.
In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its 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).
While Tubacex's debt to EBITDA ratio (4.1) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 2.1, suggesting 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. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. The silver lining is that Tubacex grew its EBIT by 351% last year, which nourishing like the idealism of youth. If it can keep walking that path it will be in a position to shed its debt with relative ease. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Tubacex'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 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. During the last two years, Tubacex burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
On the face of it, Tubacex's level of total liabilities left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. We're quite clear that we consider Tubacex to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Tubacex insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.
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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