Future Enterprises (NSE:FEL) Seems To Be Using An Awful Lot Of Debt

Warren Buffett famously said, ‘Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.’ 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 Future Enterprises Limited (NSE:FEL) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for Future Enterprises

How Much Debt Does Future Enterprises Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Future Enterprises had ₹66.3b in debt in September 2019; about the same as the year before. However, it does have ₹4.65b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about ₹61.6b.

NSEI:FEL Historical Debt, February 10th 2020
NSEI:FEL Historical Debt, February 10th 2020

A Look At Future Enterprises’s Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Future Enterprises had liabilities of ₹30.6b due within 12 months, and liabilities of ₹67.8b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of ₹4.65b and ₹10.5b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹83.3b.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the ₹10.8b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Future Enterprises would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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.

While we wouldn’t worry about Future Enterprises’s net debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.8, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.2 times is a sign of high leverage. In large part that’s due to the company’s significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. On a lighter note, we note that Future Enterprises grew its EBIT by 25% in the last year. If it can maintain that kind of improvement, its debt load will begin to melt away like glaciers in a warming world. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can’t view debt in total isolation; since Future Enterprises will need earnings to service that debt. 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Future Enterprises 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.

Our View

To be frank both Future Enterprises’s conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it’s pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that’s encouraging. Overall, it seems to us that Future Enterprises’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. 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 example, we’ve discovered 2 warning signs for Future Enterprises (1 doesn’t sit too well with us!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

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 editorial-team@simplywallst.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.

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