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 might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. As with many other companies Scandi Standard AB (publ) (STO:SCST) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Scandi Standard's Net Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Scandi Standard had kr1.88b in debt in December 2020; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has kr413.0m in cash leading to net debt of about kr1.47b.
A Look At Scandi Standard's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Scandi Standard had liabilities of kr1.99b due within 12 months, and liabilities of kr2.52b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of kr413.0m and kr897.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by kr3.20b.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of kr4.12b. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.
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.
Scandi Standard has net debt worth 2.4 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 5.2 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. Unfortunately, Scandi Standard's EBIT flopped 17% over the last four quarters. If that sort of decline is not arrested, then the managing its debt will be harder than selling broccoli flavoured ice-cream for a premium. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Scandi Standard's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Scandi Standard actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
Neither Scandi Standard's ability to grow its EBIT nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that Scandi Standard is taking some risks with its use of debt. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. 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 Scandi Standard is showing 3 warning signs 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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