Stock Analysis

Is Ucal Fuel Systems (NSE:UCALFUEL) Using Too Much Debt?

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NSEI:UCALFUEL
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 can see that Ucal Fuel Systems Limited (NSE:UCALFUEL) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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.

Check out our latest analysis for Ucal Fuel Systems

How Much Debt Does Ucal Fuel Systems Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Ucal Fuel Systems had ₹2.40b of debt in March 2022, down from ₹2.63b, one year before. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NSEI:UCALFUEL Debt to Equity History September 29th 2022

How Healthy Is Ucal Fuel Systems' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Ucal Fuel Systems had liabilities of ₹2.77b due within a year, and liabilities of ₹1.09b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had ₹12.0m in cash and ₹1.02b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹2.83b.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of ₹2.81b, we think shareholders really should watch Ucal Fuel Systems's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

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). 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).

While Ucal Fuel Systems's debt to EBITDA ratio (4.0) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.1, suggesting high leverage. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Worse, Ucal Fuel Systems's EBIT was down 58% over the last year. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball's chance in hell of paying off that debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Ucal Fuel Systems will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Ucal Fuel Systems actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

To be frank both Ucal Fuel Systems'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 bigger picture, it seems clear to us that Ucal Fuel Systems's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 5 warning signs with Ucal Fuel Systems (at least 2 which make us uncomfortable) , 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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About NSEI:UCALFUEL

Ucal Fuel Systems

Ucal Fuel Systems Limited provides fuel management systems for the automotive sector in India.

The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.

Analysis AreaScore (0-6)
Valuation4
Future Growth0
Past Performance1
Financial Health3
Dividends3

Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.

Good value with mediocre balance sheet.