Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 Hydratec Industries NV (AMS:HYDRA) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is Hydratec Industries's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Hydratec Industries had €40.7m of debt in December 2020, down from €56.7m, one year before. On the flip side, it has €4.63m in cash leading to net debt of about €36.1m.
How Strong Is Hydratec Industries' Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Hydratec Industries had liabilities of €100.2m due within 12 months, and liabilities of €35.2m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €4.63m as well as receivables valued at €58.4m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €72.3m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of €80.7m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Hydratec Industries' use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe 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). 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).
Hydratec Industries's net debt is 2.6 times its EBITDA, which is a significant but still reasonable amount of leverage. But its EBIT was about 82.7 times its interest expense, implying the company isn't really paying a high cost to maintain that level of debt. Even were the low cost to prove unsustainable, that is a good sign. Importantly, Hydratec Industries's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 42% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is Hydratec Industries'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.
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, Hydratec Industries's free cash flow amounted to 41% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
We'd go so far as to say Hydratec Industries's EBIT growth rate was disappointing. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Hydratec Industries has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. 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 5 warning signs with Hydratec Industries (at least 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
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