Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that '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 DRB-HICOM Berhad (KLSE:DRBHCOM) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is DRB-HICOM Berhad's Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of December 2020, DRB-HICOM Berhad had RM8.02b of debt, up from RM6.93b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had RM6.49b in cash, and so its net debt is RM1.53b.
How Strong Is DRB-HICOM Berhad's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that DRB-HICOM Berhad had liabilities of RM28.9b due within a year, and liabilities of RM6.79b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of RM6.49b and RM7.49b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling RM21.8b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the RM3.46b 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 definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, DRB-HICOM Berhad would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
DRB-HICOM Berhad has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.91. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 1k times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Better yet, DRB-HICOM Berhad grew its EBIT by 434% last year, which is an impressive improvement. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if DRB-HICOM Berhad can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Considering the last two years, DRB-HICOM Berhad actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.
On the face of it, DRB-HICOM Berhad's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at covering its interest expense with its EBIT; that's encouraging. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that DRB-HICOM Berhad's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for DRB-HICOM Berhad you should know about.
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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