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. When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Abcam plc (LON:ABC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. 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. 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. The first step when considering a company’s debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Abcam’s Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2019 Abcam had debt of UK£101.4m, up from none in one year. But on the other hand it also has UK£189.9m in cash, leading to a UK£88.5m net cash position.
How Healthy Is Abcam’s Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Abcam had liabilities of UK£148.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of UK£83.9m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of UK£189.9m and UK£45.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So these liquid assets roughly match the total liabilities.
This state of affairs indicates that Abcam’s balance sheet looks quite solid, as its total liabilities are just about equal to its liquid assets. So it’s very unlikely that the UK£2.35b company is short on cash, but still worth keeping an eye on the balance sheet. Succinctly put, Abcam boasts net cash, so it’s fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
On the other hand, Abcam saw its EBIT drop by 6.0% in the last twelve months. That sort of decline, if sustained, will obviously make debt harder to handle. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Abcam 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. Abcam may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Over the most recent three years, Abcam recorded free cash flow worth 52% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
While we empathize with investors who find debt concerning, you should keep in mind that Abcam has net cash of UK£88.5m, as well as more liquid assets than liabilities. So we are not troubled with Abcam’s debt use. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. For instance, we’ve identified 2 warning signs for Abcam that you should be aware of.
If, after all that, you’re more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. 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.
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. Thank you for reading.