David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. Importantly, QAF Limited (SGX:Q01) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does QAF Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2020, QAF had S$122.6m of debt, up from S$110.0m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had S$93.1m in cash, and so its net debt is S$29.5m.
How Strong Is QAF's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, QAF had liabilities of S$236.5m due within 12 months, and liabilities of S$110.1m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of S$93.1m as well as receivables valued at S$141.9m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by S$111.6m.
This deficit isn't so bad because QAF is worth S$529.2m, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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.
QAF has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.29. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 12.1 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Even more impressive was the fact that QAF grew its EBIT by 591% over twelve months. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is QAF's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.
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. Over the last three years, QAF recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.
Happily, QAF's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that QAF can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for QAF you should be aware of, and 1 of them is a bit unpleasant.
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.
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QAF Limited, an investment holding company, engages in the manufacture and distribution of bread, bakery, and confectionery products in Singapore, Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and internationally.
Flawless balance sheet second-rate dividend payer.