Is S.A.L. Steel (NSE:SALSTEEL) A Risky Investment?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 11, 2021
NSEI:SALSTEEL
Source: Shutterstock

The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. As with many other companies S.A.L. Steel Limited (NSE:SALSTEEL) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for S.A.L. Steel

How Much Debt Does S.A.L. Steel Carry?

As you can see below, S.A.L. Steel had ₹1.35b of debt at September 2021, down from ₹1.62b a year prior. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NSEI:SALSTEEL Debt to Equity History December 11th 2021

How Strong Is S.A.L. Steel's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that S.A.L. Steel had liabilities of ₹1.23b due within 12 months and liabilities of ₹1.13b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had ₹10.8m in cash and ₹477.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹1.87b.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the ₹841.2m 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'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, S.A.L. Steel would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

S.A.L. Steel has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.5, which signals significant debt, but is still pretty reasonable for most types of business. However, its interest coverage of 634 is very high, suggesting that the interest expense on the debt is currently quite low. Notably, S.A.L. Steel made a loss at the EBIT level, last year, but improved that to positive EBIT of ₹283m in the last twelve months. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is S.A.L. Steel'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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Over the last year, S.A.L. Steel recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 93% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

While S.A.L. Steel's level of total liabilities has us nervous. For example, its interest cover and conversion of EBIT to free cash flow give us some confidence in its ability to manage its debt. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think S.A.L. Steel's debt poses some risks to the business. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. 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. To that end, you should learn about the 2 warning signs we've spotted with S.A.L. Steel (including 1 which is concerning) .

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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