The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says '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. Importantly, Seven Group Holdings Limited (ASX:SVW) does carry debt. 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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Seven Group Holdings Carry?
As you can see below, Seven Group Holdings had AU$4.95b of debt at June 2023, down from AU$5.73b a year prior. However, it also had AU$876.5m in cash, and so its net debt is AU$4.08b.
How Healthy Is Seven Group Holdings' Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Seven Group Holdings had liabilities of AU$2.54b falling due within a year, and liabilities of AU$6.48b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of AU$876.5m as well as receivables valued at AU$1.65b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total AU$6.48b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Seven Group Holdings has a market capitalization of AU$11.8b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
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.
Seven Group Holdings has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.6 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 4.2 times. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Worse, Seven Group Holdings's EBIT was down 31% over the last year. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Seven Group Holdings can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
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. In the last three years, Seven Group Holdings's free cash flow amounted to 24% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
Mulling over Seven Group Holdings's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least its net debt to EBITDA is not so bad. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Seven Group Holdings has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with Seven Group Holdings .
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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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.