Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We note that Dicker Data Limited (ASX:DDR) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Dicker Data's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2018 Dicker Data had AU$109.6m of debt, an increase on AU$94.4m, over one year. However, it does have AU$6.61m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about AU$103.0m.
A Look At Dicker Data's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Dicker Data had liabilities of AU$303.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of AU$45.9m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had AU$6.61m in cash and AU$238.7m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling AU$103.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Of course, Dicker Data has a market capitalization of AU$1.06b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Dicker Data's net debt of 1.9 times EBITDA suggests graceful use of debt. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 9.5 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. If Dicker Data can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 15% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Dicker Data will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Dicker Data produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 75% 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.
Dicker Data's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its interest cover also supports that impression! Zooming out, Dicker Data seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Dicker Data insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
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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.