Is Arundel (VTX:ARON) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
September 15, 2021
SWX:ARON
Source: Shutterstock

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. We can see that Arundel AG (VTX:ARON) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Arundel

What Is Arundel's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2021 Arundel had US$175.9m of debt, an increase on US$164.0m, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$7.17m in cash leading to net debt of about US$168.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SWX:ARON Debt to Equity History September 15th 2021

How Strong Is Arundel's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Arundel had liabilities of US$38.7m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$152.8m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$7.17m in cash and US$6.06m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$178.3m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$38.3m company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Arundel would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Weak interest cover of 0.54 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 53.2 hit our confidence in Arundel like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. The good news is that Arundel grew its EBIT a smooth 34% over the last twelve months. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Arundel will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Arundel saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

To be frank both Arundel's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Arundel has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn't float our boat. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 3 warning signs for Arundel (of which 1 is significant!) 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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