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Is Delta Apparel (NYSEMKT:DLA) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

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. 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 note that Delta Apparel, Inc. (NYSEMKT:DLA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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 think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Delta Apparel

How Much Debt Does Delta Apparel Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, Delta Apparel had US$131.5m of debt, up from US$116.3m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.

AMEX:DLA Historical Debt, October 15th 2019

A Look At Delta Apparel's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Delta Apparel had liabilities of US$81.6m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$149.6m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$371.0k in cash and US$68.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$162.0m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$172.3m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Delta Apparel's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Weak interest cover of 1.9 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.3 hit our confidence in Delta Apparel like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that Delta Apparel saw its EBIT drop by 12% over the last twelve months. If that's the way things keep going handling the debt load will be like delivering hot coffees on a pogo stick. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Delta Apparel can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. In the last three years, Delta Apparel's free cash flow amounted to 34% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

On the face of it, Delta Apparel's net debt to EBITDA left us tentative about the stock, and its interest cover was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is not so bad. Overall, it seems to us that Delta Apparel's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Delta Apparel, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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.

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 editorial-team@simplywallst.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.