Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. As with many other companies Light S.A. (BVMF:LIGT3) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Light Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2021 Light had R$11.1b of debt, an increase on R$9.68b, over one year. However, it does have R$3.60b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about R$7.54b.
How Healthy Is Light's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Light had liabilities of R$6.69b due within 12 months and liabilities of R$12.9b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of R$3.60b and R$3.30b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by R$12.6b.
This deficit casts a shadow over the R$3.65b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Light would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Light's debt is 3.6 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 2.5 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Even worse, Light saw its EBIT tank 35% over the last 12 months. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball's chance in hell of paying off that debt. 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 Light 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Considering the last three years, Light actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is far more risky for companies with unreliable free cash flow, so shareholders should be hoping that the past expenditure will produce free cash flow in the future.
On the face of it, Light's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. And even its interest cover fails to inspire much confidence. It's also worth noting that Light is in the Electric Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Considering all the factors previously mentioned, we think that Light really is carrying too much debt. To our minds, that means the stock is rather high risk, and probably one to avoid; but to each their own (investing) style. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Be aware that Light is showing 4 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those is potentially serious...
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.