Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, ‘The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.’ 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. We can see that Vogiatzoglou Systems S.A. (ATH:VOSYS) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well – and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company’s debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Vogiatzoglou Systems Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of December 2018, Vogiatzoglou Systems had €2.71m of debt, up from €2.53m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has €1.40m in cash leading to net debt of about €1.30m.
A Look At Vogiatzoglou Systems’s Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Vogiatzoglou Systems had liabilities of €5.30m due within 12 months, and liabilities of €1.42m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €1.40m as well as receivables valued at €9.07m due within 12 months. So it can boast €3.76m more liquid assets than total liabilities.
It’s good to see that Vogiatzoglou Systems has plenty of liquidity on its balance sheet, suggesting conservative management of liabilities. Because it has plenty of assets, it is unlikely to have trouble with its lenders.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Vogiatzoglou Systems’s net debt is only 0.67 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 11.0 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Vogiatzoglou Systems’s EBIT was pretty flat over the last year, but that shouldn’t be an issue given the it doesn’t have a lot of debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is Vogiatzoglou Systems’s earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So if you’re keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Vogiatzoglou Systems recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for and improvement.
The good news is that Vogiatzoglou Systems’s demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Vogiatzoglou Systems 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. Another positive for shareholders is that it pays dividends. So if you like receiving those dividend payments, check Vogiatzoglou Systems’s dividend history, without delay!
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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