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. We can see that Central European Media Enterprises Ltd. (NASDAQ:CETV) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Central European Media Enterprises's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Central European Media Enterprises had debt of US$670.2m at the end of June 2019, a reduction from US$883.9m over a year. However, it does have US$74.6m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$595.6m.
How Healthy Is Central European Media Enterprises's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Central European Media Enterprises had liabilities of US$169.4m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$746.2m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$74.6m as well as receivables valued at US$177.3m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$663.7m.
Central European Media Enterprises has a market capitalization of US$1.18b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Central European Media Enterprises's debt is 2.5 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 5.6 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. We note that Central European Media Enterprises grew its EBIT by 23% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Central European Media Enterprises'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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Central European Media Enterprises produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 62% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
On our analysis Central European Media Enterprises's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to handle its total liabilities. Considering this range of data points, we think Central European Media Enterprises is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Central European Media Enterprises's earnings per share history for free.
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% free, right now.
We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. 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.