Stock Analysis

ABL Group (OB:ABL) Has A Rock Solid Balance Sheet

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David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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 ABL Group ASA (OB:ABL) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. 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 think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is ABL Group's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2022 ABL Group had debt of US$14.2m, up from US$12.5m in one year. However, its balance sheet shows it holds US$29.3m in cash, so it actually has US$15.1m net cash.

OB:ABL Debt to Equity History February 2nd 2023

How Strong Is ABL Group's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that ABL Group had liabilities of US$40.2m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$19.6m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$29.3m as well as receivables valued at US$62.3m due within 12 months. So it actually has US$31.7m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

It's good to see that ABL Group has plenty of liquidity on its balance sheet, suggesting conservative management of liabilities. Due to its strong net asset position, it is not likely to face issues with its lenders. Simply put, the fact that ABL Group has more cash than debt is arguably a good indication that it can manage its debt safely.

On top of that, ABL Group grew its EBIT by 84% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if ABL Group 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. While ABL Group has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. During the last three years, ABL Group produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 79% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Summing Up

While we empathize with investors who find debt concerning, you should keep in mind that ABL Group has net cash of US$15.1m, as well as more liquid assets than liabilities. And we liked the look of last year's 84% year-on-year EBIT growth. The bottom line is that we do not find ABL Group's debt levels at all concerning. 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. Be aware that ABL Group is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , you should know about...

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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