We Think Universal Cables (NSE:UNIVCABLES) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
February 18, 2022
NSEI:UNIVCABLES
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Universal Cables Limited (NSE:UNIVCABLES) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Universal Cables

What Is Universal Cables's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2021 Universal Cables had debt of ₹6.39b, up from ₹6.09b in one year. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NSEI:UNIVCABLES Debt to Equity History February 18th 2022

How Strong Is Universal Cables' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Universal Cables had liabilities of ₹9.44b due within 12 months, and liabilities of ₹3.63b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had ₹91.1m in cash and ₹7.32b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹5.66b.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's ₹5.45b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. 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.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Universal Cables shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (5.4), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.5 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. However, one redeeming factor is that Universal Cables grew its EBIT at 11% over the last 12 months, boosting its ability to handle its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Universal Cables will need earnings to service that debt. 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, Universal Cables created free cash flow amounting to 9.5% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.

Our View

To be frank both Universal Cables's net debt to EBITDA and its track record of covering its interest expense with its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. We're quite clear that we consider Universal Cables to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. 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. To that end, you should learn about the 4 warning signs we've spotted with Universal Cables (including 2 which shouldn't be ignored) .

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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