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.' 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. As with many other companies Supreme Engineering Limited (NSE:SUPREMEENG) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Supreme Engineering's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of March 2021 Supreme Engineering had ₹1.02b of debt, an increase on ₹874.5m, over one year. On the flip side, it has ₹61.8m in cash leading to net debt of about ₹958.0m.
A Look At Supreme Engineering's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Supreme Engineering had liabilities of ₹1.43b falling due within a year, and liabilities of ₹216.6m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of ₹61.8m as well as receivables valued at ₹713.3m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹874.5m.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of ₹694.9m, we think shareholders really should watch Supreme Engineering's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.
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). 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).
Supreme Engineering shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (12.8), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.41 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. Even worse, Supreme Engineering saw its EBIT tank 46% 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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Supreme Engineering 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Considering the last three years, Supreme Engineering actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is far more risky for companies with unreliable free cash flow, so shareholders should be hoping that the past expenditure will produce free cash flow in the future.
On the face of it, Supreme Engineering's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. And even its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow fails to inspire much confidence. We think the chances that Supreme Engineering has too much debt a very significant. To us, that makes the stock rather risky, like walking through a dog park with your eyes closed. But some investors may feel differently. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example, we've discovered 4 warning signs for Supreme Engineering (3 are potentially serious!) that you should be aware of before investing here.
If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
When trading Supreme Engineering or any other investment, use the platform considered by many to be the Professional's Gateway to the Worlds Market, Interactive Brokers. You get the lowest-cost* trading on stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds worldwide from a single integrated account. Promoted
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.
*Interactive Brokers Rated Lowest Cost Broker by StockBrokers.com Annual Online Review 2020
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.