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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We note that Bapcor Limited (ASX:BAP) 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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Bapcor's Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2022, Bapcor had AU$346.7m of debt, up from AU$204.2m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of AU$80.2m, its net debt is less, at about AU$266.5m.
A Look At Bapcor's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Bapcor had liabilities of AU$347.9m due within a year, and liabilities of AU$551.4m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$80.2m and AU$203.8m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling AU$615.4m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Bapcor has a market capitalization of AU$2.21b, 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).
Bapcor's net debt is only 1.2 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 10.3 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. While Bapcor doesn't seem to have gained much on the EBIT line, at least earnings remain stable for now. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Bapcor 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Bapcor recorded free cash flow worth 54% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Bapcor was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to grow its EBIT. Considering this range of data points, we think Bapcor is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with Bapcor .
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
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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.