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 Sligro Food Group N.V. (AMS:SLIGR) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
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 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Sligro Food Group's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 Sligro Food Group had debt of €306.0m, up from €209.0m in one year. On the flip side, it has €23.0m in cash leading to net debt of about €283.0m.
A Look At Sligro Food Group's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Sligro Food Group had liabilities of €500.0m due within a year, and liabilities of €425.0m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had €23.0m in cash and €220.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €682.0m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of €1.03b. 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.
Sligro Food Group has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.1 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 6.2 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Importantly, Sligro Food Group's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 61% in the last twelve months. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Sligro Food Group'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.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Sligro Food Group recorded free cash flow of 31% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
Mulling over Sligro Food Group's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least its interest cover is not so bad. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Sligro Food Group has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. Another positive for shareholders is that it pays dividends. So if you like receiving those dividend payments, check Sligro Food Group's dividend history, without delay!
At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.
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