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 Servotronics, Inc. (NYSEMKT:SVT) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Servotronics's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Servotronics had debt of US$2.95m at the end of March 2019, a reduction from US$3.55m over a year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$2.15m, its net debt is less, at about US$800.0k.
A Look At Servotronics's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Servotronics had liabilities of US$7.10m due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.01m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$2.15m as well as receivables valued at US$10.9m due within 12 months. So it can boast US$1.92m more liquid assets than total liabilities.
This surplus suggests that Servotronics has a conservative balance sheet, and could probably eliminate its debt without much difficulty.
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.
Servotronics has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.16. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 37.3 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. On top of that, Servotronics grew its EBIT by 59% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Servotronics will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.
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. Looking at the most recent three years, Servotronics recorded free cash flow of 23% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
The good news is that Servotronics's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Zooming out, Servotronics seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Servotronics's earnings per share history 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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