David Iben put it well when he said, ‘Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. We note that Sunrise Communications Group AG (VTX:SRCG) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can’t easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Sunrise Communications Group Carry?
As you can see below, Sunrise Communications Group had CHF1.57b of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has CHF239.8m in cash leading to net debt of about CHF1.33b.
How Healthy Is Sunrise Communications Group’s Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Sunrise Communications Group had liabilities of CHF576.7m due within a year, and liabilities of CHF2.14b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CHF239.8m as well as receivables valued at CHF387.1m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CHF2.09b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn’t so bad because Sunrise Communications Group is worth CHF3.51b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). 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).
Sunrise Communications Group has net debt worth 2.1 times EBITDA, which isn’t too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 4.2 times the interest expense. In large part that’s due to the company’s significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. Also relevant is that Sunrise Communications Group has grown its EBIT by a very respectable 27% in the last year, thus enhancing its ability to pay down debt. There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Sunrise Communications Group 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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Sunrise Communications Group actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There’s nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders’ good graces.
Happily, Sunrise Communications Group’s impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But truth be told we feel its level of total liabilities does undermine this impression a bit. All these things considered, it appears that Sunrise Communications Group can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this one. Given Sunrise Communications Group has a strong balance sheet is profitable and pays a dividend, it would be good to know how fast its dividends are growing, if at all. You can find out instantly by clicking this link.
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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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. 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. Thank you for reading.