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.’ 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 SilverSun Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ:SSNT) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
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 common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company’s debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does SilverSun Technologies Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that SilverSun Technologies had US$1.42m of debt in June 2019, down from US$1.99m, one year before. However, it does have US$527.7k in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$890.3k.
How Healthy Is SilverSun Technologies’s Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that SilverSun Technologies had liabilities of US$6.57m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$1.79m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$527.7k as well as receivables valued at US$3.87m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$3.95m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
SilverSun Technologies has a market capitalization of US$11.8m, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it’s clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 0.70 and interest cover of 6.7 times, it seems to us that SilverSun Technologies is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. So we’d recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. In fact SilverSun Technologies’s saving grace is its low debt levels, because its EBIT has tanked 22% in the last twelve months. When it comes to paying off debt, falling earnings are no more useful than sugary sodas are for your health. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can’t view debt in total isolation; since SilverSun Technologies 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, SilverSun Technologies actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.
SilverSun Technologies’s EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better There’s no doubt that its ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow is pretty flash. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about SilverSun Technologies’s use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to the extra confidence that we’d gain if we knew that SilverSun Technologies insiders have been buying shares: if you’re on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
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.
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