Warren Buffett famously said, ‘Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.’ 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. We note that AGES Industri AB (publ) (STO:AGES B) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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 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 think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is AGES Industri’s Debt?
As you can see below, AGES Industri had kr173.0m of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have kr9.00m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about kr164.0m.
How Strong Is AGES Industri’s Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that AGES Industri had liabilities of kr418.0m due within a year, and liabilities of kr229.0m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of kr9.00m as well as receivables valued at kr229.0m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling kr409.0m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company’s market capitalization of kr355.0m, we think shareholders really should watch AGES Industri’s debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive 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).
AGES Industri’s net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.0 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 5.2 times last year. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. Unfortunately, AGES Industri’s EBIT flopped 20% over the last four quarters. If that sort of decline is not arrested, then the managing its debt will be harder than selling broccoli flavoured ice-cream for a premium. There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can’t view debt in total isolation; since AGES Industri 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.
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. In the last three years, AGES Industri’s free cash flow amounted to 24% of its EBIT, less than we’d expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
We’d go so far as to say AGES Industri’s EBIT growth rate was disappointing. But at least its interest cover is not so bad. Overall, it seems to us that AGES Industri’s balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we’re pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. 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 AGES Industri’s earnings per share history for free.
If you’re interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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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.