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 might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Gran Colombia Gold Corp. (TSE:GCM) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Gran Colombia Gold's Net Debt?
As you can see below, Gran Colombia Gold had US$91.8m of debt at June 2019, down from US$129.7m a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$51.3m, its net debt is less, at about US$40.5m.
A Look At Gran Colombia Gold's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Gran Colombia Gold had liabilities of US$57.0m due within a year, and liabilities of US$164.4m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$51.3m in cash and US$10.9m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$159.2m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$200.8m. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Gran Colombia Gold has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.36. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 35.3 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Also positive, Gran Colombia Gold grew its EBIT by 26% 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 ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Gran Colombia Gold can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. In the last three years, Gran Colombia Gold's free cash flow amounted to 40% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
Both Gran Colombia Gold's ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its EBIT growth rate gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. Having said that, its level of total liabilities somewhat sensitizes us to potential future risks to the balance sheet. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Gran Colombia Gold is managing its debt quite well. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Gran Colombia Gold insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you're in luck, since today we're sharing our list of reported insider transactions 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.
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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.