Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that ‘Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.’ 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. Importantly, HMS Networks AB (publ) (STO:HMS) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
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. 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. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does HMS Networks Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, HMS Networks had kr493.0m of debt, up from kr461.0m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had kr86.0m in cash, and so its net debt is kr407.0m.
How Healthy Is HMS Networks’s Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, HMS Networks had liabilities of kr343.0m due within 12 months, and liabilities of kr618.0m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of kr86.0m and kr256.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling kr619.0m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded HMS Networks shares are worth a total of kr7.46b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).
HMS Networks has a low debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.4. And remarkably, despite having net debt, it actually received more in interest over the last twelve months than it had to pay. So it’s fair to say it can handle debt like a hot shot teppanyaki chef handles cooking. If HMS Networks can keep growing EBIT at last year’s rate of 17% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. 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 HMS Networks 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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, HMS Networks produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 73% of its EBIT, about what we’d expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
HMS Networks’s interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14’s goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Looking at the bigger picture, we think HMS Networks’s use of debt seems quite reasonable and we’re not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to the extra confidence that we’d gain if we knew that HMS Networks insiders have been buying shares: if you’re on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don’t even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
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