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. We note that Gear4music (Holdings) plc (LON:G4M) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Gear4music (Holdings)'s Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of March 2022 Gear4music (Holdings) had UK£28.0m of debt, an increase on UK£3.48m, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of UK£3.90m, its net debt is less, at about UK£24.1m.
How Healthy Is Gear4music (Holdings)'s Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Gear4music (Holdings) had liabilities of UK£17.4m due within 12 months, and liabilities of UK£38.8m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had UK£3.90m in cash and UK£1.77m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by UK£50.6m.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the UK£29.6m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Gear4music (Holdings) would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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.
Gear4music (Holdings) has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.3 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 6.5 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Shareholders should be aware that Gear4music (Holdings)'s EBIT was down 61% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Gear4music (Holdings)'s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Gear4music (Holdings) created free cash flow amounting to 2.6% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.
To be frank both Gear4music (Holdings)'s EBIT growth rate 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 covering its interest expense with its EBIT; that's encouraging. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Gear4music (Holdings) 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. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example Gear4music (Holdings) has 4 warning signs (and 2 which are a bit concerning) we think you should know about.
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.
Gear4music (Holdings) plc engages in the retail of musical instruments and equipment in the United Kingdom, rest of Europe, and internationally.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
|Analysis Area||Score (0-6)|
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Reasonable growth potential and fair value.