Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. We note that The Shipping Corporation of India Limited (NSE:SCI) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Shipping Corporation of India's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Shipping Corporation of India had debt of ₹36.5b at the end of September 2021, a reduction from ₹42.9b over a year. However, it does have ₹17.1b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about ₹19.4b.
How Healthy Is Shipping Corporation of India's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Shipping Corporation of India had liabilities of ₹25.8b falling due within a year, and liabilities of ₹25.6b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had ₹17.1b in cash and ₹6.89b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹27.4b.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Shipping Corporation of India has a market capitalization of ₹64.7b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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). 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).
We'd say that Shipping Corporation of India's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.6), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 1k times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. In fact Shipping Corporation of India's saving grace is its low debt levels, because its EBIT has tanked 44% in the last twelve months. When it comes to paying off debt, falling earnings are no more useful than sugary sodas are for your health. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Shipping Corporation of India 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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Shipping Corporation of India 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.
Based on what we've seen Shipping Corporation of India is not finding it easy, given its EBIT growth rate, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. In particular, we are dazzled with its interest cover. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Shipping Corporation of India's use of debt. 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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for Shipping Corporation of India 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.
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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