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.' 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. Importantly, Gemilang International Limited (HKG:6163) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. 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. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does Gemilang International Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at April 2021 Gemilang International had debt of US$11.1m, up from US$7.69m in one year. However, it does have US$4.17m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$6.89m.
A Look At Gemilang International's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Gemilang International had liabilities of US$24.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$96.0k due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$4.17m and US$9.42m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$10.6m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn't so bad because Gemilang International is worth US$21.3m, 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Gemilang International shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (11.2), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.15 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Even worse, Gemilang International saw its EBIT tank 98% over the last 12 months. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is Gemilang International'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 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. During the last three years, Gemilang International produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 79% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
To be frank both Gemilang International's interest cover and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Gemilang International stock a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. 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. For instance, we've identified 5 warning signs for Gemilang International (2 don't sit too well with us) you should be aware of.
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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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.
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