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 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. As with many other companies IRESS Limited (ASX:IRE) makes use of debt. 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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is IRESS's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 IRESS had debt of AU$222.0m, up from AU$207.0m in one year. On the flip side, it has AU$29.2m in cash leading to net debt of about AU$192.9m.
How Strong Is IRESS's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that IRESS had liabilities of AU$91.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of AU$326.0m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$29.2m and AU$70.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total AU$317.7m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Since publicly traded IRESS shares are worth a total of AU$2.31b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.
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).
We'd say that IRESS's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.7), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its strong interest cover of 13.2 times, makes us even more comfortable. Fortunately, IRESS grew its EBIT by 8.3% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine IRESS's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, IRESS generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 85% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
IRESS's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Looking at the bigger picture, we think IRESS's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return 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. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for IRESS which any shareholder or potential investor should be aware of.
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.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.
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