David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' 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. Importantly, Adbri Limited (ASX:ABC) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Adbri's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Adbri had debt of AU$486.6m at the end of June 2021, a reduction from AU$895.5m over a year. However, it also had AU$74.7m in cash, and so its net debt is AU$411.9m.
How Healthy Is Adbri's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Adbri had liabilities of AU$225.8m falling due within a year, and liabilities of AU$708.1m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of AU$74.7m as well as receivables valued at AU$232.1m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling AU$627.1m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn't so bad because Adbri is worth AU$1.88b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up 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.
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.
With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.7, Adbri uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the alluring interest cover (EBIT of 8.1 times interest expense) certainly does not do anything to dispel this impression. One way Adbri could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 16%, as it did over the last year. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Adbri 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Adbri produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 69% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
Adbri's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Adbri can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Adbri you should know about.
At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.
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.
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