Stock Analysis

Does AFT Pharmaceuticals (NZSE:AFT) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

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NZSE:AFT
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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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We note that AFT Pharmaceuticals Limited (NZSE:AFT) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for AFT Pharmaceuticals

What Is AFT Pharmaceuticals's Debt?

As you can see below, AFT Pharmaceuticals had NZ$40.1m of debt at September 2020, down from NZ$45.8m a year prior. However, it does have NZ$5.87m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about NZ$34.3m.

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NZSE:AFT Debt to Equity History January 2nd 2021

A Look At AFT Pharmaceuticals's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that AFT Pharmaceuticals had liabilities of NZ$25.9m falling due within a year, and liabilities of NZ$38.1m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had NZ$5.87m in cash and NZ$16.6m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling NZ$41.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Since publicly traded AFT Pharmaceuticals shares are worth a total of NZ$576.3m, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.

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 we wouldn't worry about AFT Pharmaceuticals's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.9, we think its super-low interest cover of 2.2 times is a sign of high leverage. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Looking on the bright side, AFT Pharmaceuticals boosted its EBIT by a silky 34% in the last year. Like a mother's loving embrace of a newborn that sort of growth builds resilience, putting the company in a stronger position to manage its debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if AFT Pharmaceuticals 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last two years, AFT Pharmaceuticals reported free cash flow worth 18% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for AFT Pharmaceuticals was the fact that it seems able to grow its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. To be specific, it seems about as good at covering its interest expense with its EBIT as wet socks are at keeping your feet warm. Considering this range of data points, we think AFT Pharmaceuticals is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. 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. For example, we've discovered 4 warning signs for AFT Pharmaceuticals (1 is a bit unpleasant!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

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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