Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. Importantly, Sundram Fasteners Limited (NSE:SUNDRMFAST) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Sundram Fasteners's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Sundram Fasteners had debt of ₹6.88b at the end of September 2020, a reduction from ₹9.96b over a year. However, it does have ₹1.28b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about ₹5.60b.
A Look At Sundram Fasteners's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Sundram Fasteners had liabilities of ₹11.1b due within a year, and liabilities of ₹4.10b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of ₹1.28b as well as receivables valued at ₹6.67b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹7.28b.
Given Sundram Fasteners has a market capitalization of ₹107.9b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
While Sundram Fasteners's low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.3 suggests only modest use of debt, the fact that EBIT only covered the interest expense by 5.8 times last year does give us pause. So we'd recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. Shareholders should be aware that Sundram Fasteners's EBIT was down 54% 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 Sundram Fasteners'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 clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Sundram Fasteners's free cash flow amounted to 42% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
Sundram Fasteners's struggle to grow its EBIT had us second guessing its balance sheet strength, but the other data-points we considered were relatively redeeming. For example, its net debt to EBITDA is relatively strong. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Sundram Fasteners is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. 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. Consider risks, for instance. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for Sundram Fasteners you should know about.
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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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. 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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