Stock Analysis

We Think Gale Pacific (ASX:GAP) Can Manage Its Debt With Ease

ASX:GAP
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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, Gale Pacific Limited (ASX:GAP) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. 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. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Gale Pacific

What Is Gale Pacific's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Gale Pacific had AU$31.6m of debt in December 2020, down from AU$40.7m, one year before. However, it does have AU$27.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about AU$3.89m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:GAP Debt to Equity History February 23rd 2021

How Healthy Is Gale Pacific's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Gale Pacific had liabilities of AU$53.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of AU$38.7m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of AU$27.7m as well as receivables valued at AU$38.6m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling AU$25.5m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Gale Pacific has a market capitalization of AU$99.1m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

Gale Pacific has net debt of just 0.16 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 9.3 times the interest expense over the last year. Better yet, Gale Pacific grew its EBIT by 130% last year, which is an impressive improvement. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Gale Pacific 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Gale Pacific generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 82% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Happily, Gale Pacific's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that Gale Pacific is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So we're not worried about the use of a little leverage on the balance sheet. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Gale Pacific you should know about.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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