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. So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Sing Holdings Limited (SGX:5IC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. The first step when considering a company’s debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Sing Holdings’s Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Sing Holdings had debt of S$117.7m at the end of December 2019, a reduction from S$231.2m over a year. However, it also had S$54.4m in cash, and so its net debt is S$63.3m.
A Look At Sing Holdings’s Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Sing Holdings had liabilities of S$109.7m due within a year, and liabilities of S$58.4m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of S$54.4m and S$143.8m worth of receivables due within a year. So it can boast S$30.0m more liquid assets than total liabilities.
This excess liquidity suggests that Sing Holdings is taking a careful approach to debt. Because it has plenty of assets, it is unlikely to have trouble with its lenders.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Sing Holdings’s net debt is only 0.70 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 31.0 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Better yet, Sing Holdings grew its EBIT by 322% last year, which is an impressive improvement. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is Sing Holdings’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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Sing Holdings actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There’s nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders’ good graces.
Happily, Sing Holdings’s impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! We think Sing Holdings is no more beholden to its lenders, than the birds are to birdwatchers. To our minds it has a healthy happy balance sheet. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. For instance, we’ve identified 3 warning signs for Sing Holdings that you should be aware of.
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.
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.
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