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 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. As with many other companies Arbonia AG (VTX:ARBN) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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.
How Much Debt Does Arbonia Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Arbonia had debt of CHF197.8m at the end of June 2019, a reduction from CHF209.7m over a year. However, it does have CHF39.8m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CHF158.0m.
How Strong Is Arbonia's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Arbonia had liabilities of CHF380.2m due within a year, and liabilities of CHF344.2m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had CHF39.8m in cash and CHF202.5m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CHF482.2m.
Arbonia has a market capitalization of CHF821.8m, 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.
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.
Arbonia has net debt of just 1.5 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 9.7 times the interest expense over the last year. The good news is that Arbonia has increased its EBIT by 3.4% over twelve months, which should ease any concerns about debt repayment. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Arbonia 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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Arbonia burned a lot of cash. 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.
Arbonia's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered cast it in a significantly better light. For example its interest cover was refreshing. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Arbonia's debt poses some risks to the business. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Arbonia, 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.