Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 note that Lifestyle Communities Limited (ASX:LIC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Lifestyle Communities's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2021 Lifestyle Communities had AU$274.0m of debt, an increase on AU$175.0m, over one year. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.
A Look At Lifestyle Communities' Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Lifestyle Communities had liabilities of AU$85.9m falling due within a year, and liabilities of AU$439.7m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$519.0k and AU$2.33m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total AU$522.8m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit isn't so bad because Lifestyle Communities is worth AU$1.42b, 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.
As it happens Lifestyle Communities has a fairly concerning net debt to EBITDA ratio of 8.9 but very strong interest coverage of 21.8. So either it has access to very cheap long term debt or that interest expense is going to grow! One way Lifestyle Communities could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 18%, as it did over the last year. 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 Lifestyle Communities can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Lifestyle Communities saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
Lifestyle Communities's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and net debt to EBITDA definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But the good news is it seems to be able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT with ease. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that Lifestyle Communities is taking some risks with its use of debt. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Lifestyle Communities you should be aware of, and 2 of them are potentially serious.
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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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.