Stock Analysis

Is Hubline Berhad (KLSE:HUBLINE) A Risky Investment?

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KLSE:HUBLINE
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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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We can see that Hubline Berhad (KLSE:HUBLINE) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. 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. 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.

View our latest analysis for Hubline Berhad

What Is Hubline Berhad's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Hubline Berhad had RM77.3m in debt in June 2021; about the same as the year before. However, it also had RM16.6m in cash, and so its net debt is RM60.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
KLSE:HUBLINE Debt to Equity History September 22nd 2021

A Look At Hubline Berhad's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Hubline Berhad had liabilities of RM89.1m due within 12 months and liabilities of RM59.1m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of RM16.6m as well as receivables valued at RM31.8m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by RM99.8m.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of RM150.1m. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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.

With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.9, Hubline Berhad uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 9.0 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. Notably, Hubline Berhad made a loss at the EBIT level, last year, but improved that to positive EBIT of RM14m in the last twelve months. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is Hubline Berhad's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Considering the last year, Hubline 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.

Our View

Mulling over Hubline Berhad's attempt at converting EBIT to free cash flow, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Hubline Berhad stock a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. 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 5 warning signs for Hubline Berhad (of which 2 are potentially serious!) you should know about.

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.

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