Is São Martinho (BVMF:SMTO3) Using Too Much Debt?
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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. As with many other companies São Martinho S.A. (BVMF:SMTO3) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
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What Is São Martinho's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2022 São Martinho had debt of R$6.92b, up from R$5.01b in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of R$2.69b, its net debt is less, at about R$4.23b.
How Strong Is São Martinho's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, São Martinho had liabilities of R$3.03b due within 12 months, and liabilities of R$10.0b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of R$2.69b and R$654.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling R$9.72b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of R$9.23b, we think shareholders really should watch São Martinho's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive 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). 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).
Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 1.4 and interest cover of 4.4 times, it seems to us that São Martinho is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. So we'd recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. Importantly, São Martinho's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 44% in the last twelve months. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine São Martinho's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, São Martinho's free cash flow amounted to 45% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
Mulling over São Martinho's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least it's pretty decent at managing its debt, based on its EBITDA,; that's encouraging. We're quite clear that we consider São Martinho to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. 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. For example, we've discovered 4 warning signs for São Martinho (1 is concerning!) that you should be aware of before investing here.
At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.
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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.
São Martinho S.A., together with its subsidiaries, engages in the production and sale of sugar, ethanol, and other sugarcane byproducts in Brazil.
Adequate balance sheet second-rate dividend payer.