Does Southern Cross Media Group (ASX:SXL) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
March 24, 2022
ASX:SXL
Source: Shutterstock

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.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Southern Cross Media Group Limited (ASX:SXL) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Southern Cross Media Group

What Is Southern Cross Media Group's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Southern Cross Media Group had AU$127.4m of debt in December 2021, down from AU$306.2m, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of AU$60.4m, its net debt is less, at about AU$67.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:SXL Debt to Equity History March 24th 2022

How Strong Is Southern Cross Media Group's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Southern Cross Media Group had liabilities of AU$77.6m falling due within a year, and liabilities of AU$607.6m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$60.4m and AU$104.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by AU$520.4m.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's AU$461.1m market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Southern Cross Media Group has a very low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.5 so it is strange to see weak interest coverage, with last year's EBIT being only 1.4 times the interest expense. So one way or the other, it's clear the debt levels are not trivial. Shareholders should be aware that Southern Cross Media Group's EBIT was down 61% last year. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. 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 Southern Cross Media Group 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Southern Cross Media Group actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

To be frank both Southern Cross Media Group's interest cover and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Southern Cross Media Group has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. 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. We've identified 2 warning signs with Southern Cross Media Group , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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