- Wireless Telecom
Axiata Group Berhad (KLSE:AXIATA) Seems To Be Using A Lot Of Debt
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 might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, Axiata Group Berhad (KLSE:AXIATA) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
Check out our latest analysis for Axiata Group Berhad
What Is Axiata Group Berhad's Net Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2022 Axiata Group Berhad had RM25.6b of debt, an increase on RM19.2b, over one year. However, it also had RM7.27b in cash, and so its net debt is RM18.4b.
How Strong Is Axiata Group Berhad's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Axiata Group Berhad had liabilities of RM21.1b due within a year, and liabilities of RM29.9b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of RM7.27b as well as receivables valued at RM6.97b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling RM36.7b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's RM27.8b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.
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.
While Axiata Group Berhad has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 2.4, its interest cover seems weak, at 1.7. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. These charges may be non-cash, so they could be excluded when it comes to paying down debt. But the accounting charges are there for a reason -- some assets are seen to be losing value. In any case, it's safe to say the company has meaningful debt. Importantly, Axiata Group Berhad's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 28% in the last twelve months. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. 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 Axiata Group Berhad 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.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. In the last three years, Axiata Group Berhad's free cash flow amounted to 29% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
To be frank both Axiata Group Berhad's interest cover and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. Having said that, its ability handle its debt, based on its EBITDA, isn't such a worry. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Axiata Group Berhad has too much debt. While some investors love that sort of risky play, it's certainly not our cup of tea. 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. We've identified 1 warning sign with Axiata Group Berhad , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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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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.
Axiata Group Berhad
Axiata Group Berhad, an investment holding company, provides telecommunications services.
Undervalued with moderate growth potential.