Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, '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 note that Amica S.A. (WSE:AMC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Amica's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2021 Amica had zł264.5m of debt, an increase on zł229.9m, over one year. On the flip side, it has zł77.3m in cash leading to net debt of about zł187.2m.
How Strong Is Amica's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Amica had liabilities of zł1.18b falling due within a year, and liabilities of zł187.1m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had zł77.3m in cash and zł810.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total zł477.9m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Amica has a market capitalization of zł808.6m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Amica has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.90. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 51.5 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. On the other hand, Amica saw its EBIT drop by 7.7% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue to decline at that rate the company may have increasing difficulty managing its debt load. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Amica can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Amica recorded free cash flow worth 51% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Amica was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to grow its EBIT. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Amica's debt levels. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. 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. To that end, you should learn about the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Amica (including 1 which is concerning) .
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.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.