Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, '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 Perak Transit Berhad (KLSE:PTRANS) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does Perak Transit Berhad Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2023 Perak Transit Berhad had RM561.1m of debt, an increase on RM320.1m, over one year. However, it does have RM194.2m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about RM366.8m.
How Strong Is Perak Transit Berhad's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Perak Transit Berhad had liabilities of RM89.0m due within 12 months, and liabilities of RM559.0m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of RM194.2m as well as receivables valued at RM36.4m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by RM417.4m.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Perak Transit Berhad has a market capitalization of RM992.4m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Perak Transit Berhad has net debt to EBITDA of 3.2 suggesting it uses a fair bit of leverage to boost returns. On the plus side, its EBIT was 8.9 times its interest expense, and its net debt to EBITDA, was quite high, at 3.2. We note that Perak Transit Berhad grew its EBIT by 20% in the last year, and that should make it 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 Perak Transit 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Perak Transit Berhad burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
Perak Transit Berhad's struggle to convert EBIT to free cash flow had us second guessing its balance sheet strength, but the other data-points we considered were relatively redeeming. In particular, its EBIT growth rate was re-invigorating. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Perak Transit Berhad is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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. For example, we've discovered 3 warning signs for Perak Transit Berhad (1 makes us a bit uncomfortable!) that you should be aware of before investing here.
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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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.