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 Empresaria Group plc (LON:EMR) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest 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 Empresaria Group Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Empresaria Group had UK£33.4m of debt in December 2020, down from UK£35.2m, one year before. However, it also had UK£20.8m in cash, and so its net debt is UK£12.6m.
How Strong Is Empresaria Group's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Empresaria Group had liabilities of UK£72.0m due within 12 months, and liabilities of UK£7.70m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of UK£20.8m as well as receivables valued at UK£42.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total UK£16.3m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of UK£24.2m. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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.
While Empresaria Group's low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.2 suggests only modest use of debt, the fact that EBIT only covered the interest expense by 6.6 times last year does give us pause. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. The modesty of its debt load may become crucial for Empresaria Group if management cannot prevent a repeat of the 25% cut to EBIT over the last year. When a company sees its earnings tank, it can sometimes find its relationships with its lenders turn sour. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Empresaria Group's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Empresaria Group generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 83% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Empresaria Group's EBIT growth rate and level of total liabilities definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Empresaria Group is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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. We've identified 4 warning signs with Empresaria Group (at least 2 which are a bit unpleasant) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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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