Stock Analysis

We Think Bapcor (ASX:BAP) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

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ASX:BAP
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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that '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 Bapcor Limited (ASX:BAP) 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 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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is Bapcor's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Bapcor had debt of AU$204.2m at the end of June 2021, a reduction from AU$229.1m over a year. On the flip side, it has AU$39.6m in cash leading to net debt of about AU$164.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:BAP Debt to Equity History October 6th 2021

How Strong Is Bapcor's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Bapcor had liabilities of AU$363.7m due within 12 months, and liabilities of AU$382.3m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$39.6m and AU$181.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by AU$525.0m.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Bapcor has a market capitalization of AU$2.44b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Bapcor has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.76. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 13.1 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Bapcor has boosted its EBIT by 45%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Bapcor recorded free cash flow worth 58% 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.

Our View

The good news is that Bapcor's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. Zooming out, Bapcor seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. 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. Be aware that Bapcor is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , you should know about...

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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