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. As with many other companies Universal Electronics Inc. (NASDAQ:UEIC) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Universal Electronics Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Universal Electronics had US$106.5m of debt in March 2019, down from US$141.0m, one year before. However, it also had US$44.9m in cash, and so its net debt is US$61.6m.
How Healthy Is Universal Electronics’s Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Universal Electronics had liabilities of US$289.4m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$27.7m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$44.9m as well as receivables valued at US$186.3m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$86.0m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded Universal Electronics shares are worth a total of US$533.4m, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
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.
While Universal Electronics has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 1.7, its interest cover seems weak, at 0.68. In large part that’s it has so much depreciation and amortisation. While companies often boast that these charges are non-cash, most such businesses will therefore require ongoing investment (that is not expensed.) Either way there’s no doubt the stock is using meaningful leverage. Shareholders should be aware that Universal Electronics’s EBIT was down 81% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Universal Electronics can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
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. During the last three years, Universal Electronics 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.
On the face of it, Universal Electronics’s conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least its level of total liabilities is not so bad. Overall, it seems to us that Universal Electronics’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. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Universal Electronics insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.
Of course, if you’re the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don’t hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
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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.