Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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. Importantly, Saferoads Holdings Limited (ASX:SRH) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Saferoads Holdings's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2018 Saferoads Holdings had debt of AU$2.89m, up from AU$2.31m in one year. However, it does have AU$1.41m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about AU$1.48m.
A Look At Saferoads Holdings's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Saferoads Holdings had liabilities of AU$3.48m due within a year, and liabilities of AU$2.61m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$1.41m and AU$1.75m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling AU$2.93m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Saferoads Holdings has a market capitalization of AU$6.92m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without 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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).
While Saferoads Holdings's low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.1 suggests only modest use of debt, the fact that EBIT only covered the interest expense by 6.0 last year does give us pause. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. Pleasingly, Saferoads Holdings is growing its EBIT faster than former Australian PM Bob Hawke downs a yard glass, boasting a 110% gain in the last twelve months. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Saferoads Holdings 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Saferoads Holdings actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.
Happily, Saferoads Holdings's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Saferoads Holdings takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Saferoads Holdings insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
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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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.