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.' 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. As with many other companies Internity S.A. (WSE:INT) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Internity's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Internity had zł10.0m in debt in September 2020; about the same as the year before. However, it does have zł6.77m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about zł3.26m.
How Strong Is Internity's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Internity had liabilities of zł29.8m due within a year, and liabilities of zł2.00m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had zł6.77m in cash and zł6.00m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by zł19.0m.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of zł19.1m. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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.
Internity has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.63. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 14.2 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Internity has boosted its EBIT by 49%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is Internity's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Internity generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 93% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Internity's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its level of total liabilities. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Internity takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. 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. Be aware that Internity is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those shouldn't be ignored...
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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