David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. As with many other companies The Phoenix Mills Limited (NSE:PHOENIXLTD) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Phoenix Mills's Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Phoenix Mills had ₹38.7b in debt in September 2021; about the same as the year before. However, it also had ₹3.07b in cash, and so its net debt is ₹35.7b.
A Look At Phoenix Mills' Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Phoenix Mills had liabilities of ₹18.9b falling due within a year, and liabilities of ₹31.5b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of ₹3.07b and ₹5.19b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total ₹42.1b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit isn't so bad because Phoenix Mills is worth ₹180.1b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Weak interest cover of 1.6 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.9 hit our confidence in Phoenix Mills like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. More concerning, Phoenix Mills saw its EBIT drop by 3.6% in the last twelve months. If it keeps going like that paying off its debt will be like running on a treadmill -- a lot of effort for not much advancement. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Phoenix Mills can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Phoenix Mills recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 88% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Phoenix Mills was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. To be specific, it seems about as good at managing its debt, based on its EBITDA, as wet socks are at keeping your feet warm. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Phoenix Mills's debt levels. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. 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. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for Phoenix Mills that you should be aware of before investing here.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
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.
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