David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' 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 can see that Future Enterprises Limited (NSE:FELDVR) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Future Enterprises's Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of March 2019, Future Enterprises had ₹67.1b of debt, up from ₹57.7b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have ₹1.95b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about ₹65.2b.
How Healthy Is Future Enterprises's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Future Enterprises had liabilities of ₹19.7b falling due within a year, and liabilities of ₹68.3b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had ₹1.95b in cash and ₹9.53b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling ₹76.5b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit casts a shadow over the ₹12.0b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt At the end of the day, Future Enterprises would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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.
While Future Enterprises's debt to EBITDA ratio (4.3) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.2, 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. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. The good news is that Future Enterprises grew its EBIT a smooth 32% over the last twelve months. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Future Enterprises 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.
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. During the last three years, Future Enterprises burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
On the face of it, Future Enterprises's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. We're quite clear that we consider Future Enterprises to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. 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 Future Enterprises, 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.
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