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. Importantly, NPC Resources Berhad (KLSE:NPC) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is NPC Resources Berhad's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that NPC Resources Berhad had debt of RM456.5m at the end of December 2021, a reduction from RM552.7m over a year. However, because it has a cash reserve of RM70.9m, its net debt is less, at about RM385.7m.
A Look At NPC Resources Berhad's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, NPC Resources Berhad had liabilities of RM350.5m due within 12 months, and liabilities of RM412.6m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of RM70.9m as well as receivables valued at RM14.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by RM677.7m.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the RM254.8m 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, NPC Resources Berhad would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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).
While NPC Resources Berhad's debt to EBITDA ratio (4.5) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.7, suggesting high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. One redeeming factor for NPC Resources Berhad is that it turned last year's EBIT loss into a gain of RM34m, over the last twelve months. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is NPC Resources Berhad's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. In the last year, NPC Resources Berhad created free cash flow amounting to 12% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.
On the face of it, NPC Resources Berhad's interest cover 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 its EBIT growth rate is not so bad. Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, it looks like NPC Resources Berhad has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn't float our boat. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 2 warning signs with NPC Resources Berhad (at least 1 which is significant) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
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.