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 Raffles Education Corporation Limited (SGX:NR7) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Raffles Education's Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Raffles Education had S$378.0m in debt in September 2019; about the same as the year before. However, it also had S$65.1m in cash, and so its net debt is S$312.9m.
A Look At Raffles Education's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Raffles Education had liabilities of S$230.5m due within a year, and liabilities of S$354.9m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had S$65.1m in cash and S$98.2m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total S$422.1m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the S$113.0m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet." So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt After all, Raffles Education would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Weak interest cover of 0.066 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 21.5 hit our confidence in Raffles Education like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. However, the silver lining was that Raffles Education achieved a positive EBIT of S$1.1m in the last twelve months, an improvement on the prior year's loss. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Raffles Education will need earnings to service that debt. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. During the last year, Raffles Education burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
On the face of it, Raffles Education'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 at least its EBIT growth rate is not so bad. We think the chances that Raffles Education has too much debt a very significant. To us, that makes the stock rather risky, like walking through a dog park with your eyes closed. But some investors may feel differently. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Raffles Education, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.
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.
We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.
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.