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. We note that Dongkuk Steel Mill Company Limited (KRX:001230) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Dongkuk Steel Mill's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Dongkuk Steel Mill had ₩2.54t of debt in June 2020, down from ₩2.91t, one year before. However, it does have ₩370.4b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about ₩2.17t.
How Strong Is Dongkuk Steel Mill's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Dongkuk Steel Mill had liabilities of ₩2.66t due within 12 months, and liabilities of ₩603.8b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of ₩370.4b and ₩576.7b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total ₩2.3t more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the ₩566.3b 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. At the end of the day, Dongkuk Steel Mill would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Dongkuk Steel Mill shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (5.4), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.9 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that Dongkuk Steel Mill saw its EBIT drop by 15% over the last twelve months. If that's the way things keep going handling the debt load will be like delivering hot coffees on a pogo stick. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Dongkuk Steel Mill's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Dongkuk Steel Mill generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 87% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
To be frank both Dongkuk Steel Mill's net debt to EBITDA and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Dongkuk Steel Mill's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Dongkuk Steel Mill you should be aware of.
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.
If you’re looking to trade Dongkuk Steel Mill, open an account with the lowest-cost* platform trusted by professionals, Interactive Brokers. Their clients from over 200 countries and territories trade stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds worldwide from a single integrated account.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.