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. As with many other companies QMS Media Limited (ASX:QMS) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does QMS Media Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of December 2018, QMS Media had AU$170.0m of debt, up from AU$100.0m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of AU$16.2m, its net debt is less, at about AU$153.8m.
How Healthy Is QMS Media's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, QMS Media had liabilities of AU$54.4m due within 12 months, and liabilities of AU$190.9m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$16.2m and AU$75.8m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling AU$153.3m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
QMS Media has a market capitalization of AU$280.9m, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
QMS Media has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.6 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 5.9 times. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Unfortunately, QMS Media's EBIT flopped 11% over the last four quarters. If earnings continue to decline at that rate then handling the debt will be more difficult than taking three children under 5 to a fancy pants restaurant. 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 QMS Media 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, 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. Over the last three years, QMS Media saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. 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.
We'd go so far as to say QMS Media's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was disappointing. Having said that, its ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT isn't such a worry. We're quite clear that we consider QMS Media to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. In light of our reservations about the company's balance sheet, it seems sensible to check if insiders have been selling shares recently.
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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