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.' 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. We can see that OM Holdings Limited (ASX:OMH) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is OM Holdings's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that OM Holdings had debt of AU$415.0m at the end of December 2020, a reduction from AU$473.9m over a year. On the flip side, it has AU$63.0m in cash leading to net debt of about AU$352.0m.
How Strong Is OM Holdings' Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that OM Holdings had liabilities of AU$298.9m due within a year, and liabilities of AU$366.3m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$63.0m and AU$63.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling AU$539.2m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of AU$567.3m. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
OM Holdings shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (6.4), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.19 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. Even worse, OM Holdings saw its EBIT tank 92% over the last 12 months. 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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since OM Holdings 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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, OM Holdings produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 72% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
On the face of it, OM Holdings's interest cover 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 it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Overall, it seems to us that OM Holdings's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for OM Holdings you should be aware of, and 1 of them doesn't sit too well with us.
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.
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