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.' 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 Clarus Corporation (NASDAQ:CLAR) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Clarus Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Clarus had US$16.7m in debt in June 2019; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has US$1.97m in cash leading to net debt of about US$14.7m.
A Look At Clarus's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Clarus had liabilities of US$28.4m due within a year, and liabilities of US$20.4m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.97m and US$32.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$13.9m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Since publicly traded Clarus shares are worth a total of US$328.7m, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
With net debt sitting at just 0.71 times EBITDA, Clarus is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And it boasts interest cover of 9.9 times, which is more than adequate. Even more impressive was the fact that Clarus grew its EBIT by 179% over twelve months. That boost will make it even 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 Clarus'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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last two years, Clarus produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 76% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
Happily, Clarus's impressive EBIT growth rate implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that Clarus is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. Another factor that would give us confidence in Clarus would be if insiders have been buying shares: if you're conscious of that signal too, you can find out instantly by clicking this link.
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.