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.' 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. Importantly, JB Hi-Fi Limited (ASX:JBH) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is JB Hi-Fi's Debt?
As you can see below, JB Hi-Fi had AU$439.3m of debt at June 2019, down from AU$469.7m a year prior. On the flip side, it has AU$119.2m in cash leading to net debt of about AU$320.1m.
How Strong Is JB Hi-Fi's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that JB Hi-Fi had liabilities of AU$927.1m due within a year, and liabilities of AU$577.6m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had AU$119.2m in cash and AU$236.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total AU$1.15b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
JB Hi-Fi has a market capitalization of AU$3.93b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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.
JB Hi-Fi's net debt is only 0.73 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 26.7 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Fortunately, JB Hi-Fi grew its EBIT by 8.1% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine JB Hi-Fi's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, JB Hi-Fi produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 60% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
JB Hi-Fi's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And we also thought its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was a positive. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that JB Hi-Fi can handle its debt fairly comfortably. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that JB Hi-Fi 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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