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.' 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 can see that Rakon Limited (NZSE:RAK) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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 common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Rakon's Net Debt?
As you can see below, Rakon had NZ$12.8m of debt, at September 2020, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it also had NZ$10.0m in cash, and so its net debt is NZ$2.75m.
How Healthy Is Rakon's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Rakon had liabilities of NZ$41.1m due within a year, and liabilities of NZ$8.78m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of NZ$10.0m as well as receivables valued at NZ$36.4m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling NZ$3.43m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This state of affairs indicates that Rakon's balance sheet looks quite solid, as its total liabilities are just about equal to its liquid assets. So while it's hard to imagine that the NZ$192.9m company is struggling for cash, we still think it's worth monitoring its balance sheet. Carrying virtually no net debt, Rakon has a very light debt load indeed.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 0.29 and interest cover of 6.0 times, it seems to us that Rakon is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. Importantly, Rakon grew its EBIT by 43% 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 you can't view debt in total isolation; since Rakon will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. In the last three years, Rakon created free cash flow amounting to 16% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.
Rakon's EBIT growth rate suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But truth be told we feel its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow does undermine this impression a bit. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Rakon is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Rakon you should be aware of.
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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Rakon Limited, together with its subsidiaries, designs, manufactures, and sells frequency control products and timing solutions for various applications in Asia, North America, Europe, and internationally.
Solid track record with excellent balance sheet.