Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 Arco Vara AS (TAL:ARC1T) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Arco Vara Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Arco Vara had debt of €15.8m at the end of September 2020, a reduction from €19.2m over a year. However, it also had €618.0k in cash, and so its net debt is €15.2m.
How Strong Is Arco Vara's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Arco Vara had liabilities of €13.9m due within 12 months and liabilities of €5.65m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €618.0k as well as receivables valued at €191.0k due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €18.7m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit casts a shadow over the €12.4m company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Arco Vara would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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).
Arco Vara shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (13.8), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 2.4 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. However, the silver lining was that Arco Vara achieved a positive EBIT of €1.1m in the last twelve months, an improvement on the prior year's loss. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is Arco Vara's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Over the last year, Arco Vara saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
On the face of it, Arco Vara's net debt to EBITDA left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least its EBIT growth rate is not so bad. Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, it looks like Arco Vara has too much debt. While some investors love that sort of risky play, it's certainly not our cup of tea. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 3 warning signs with Arco Vara (at least 1 which is concerning) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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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