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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. Importantly, Tuan Sing Holdings Limited (SGX:T24) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, 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.
How Much Debt Does Tuan Sing Holdings Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Tuan Sing Holdings had S$1.47b of debt in December 2020, down from S$1.71b, one year before. However, it does have S$277.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about S$1.19b.
How Strong Is Tuan Sing Holdings' Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Tuan Sing Holdings had liabilities of S$666.0m falling due within a year, and liabilities of S$1.30b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of S$277.0m as well as receivables valued at S$87.0m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by S$1.61b.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the S$486.8m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Tuan Sing Holdings would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
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.
Weak interest cover of 0.41 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 44.5 hit our confidence in Tuan Sing Holdings like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. Worse, Tuan Sing Holdings's EBIT was down 56% over the last year. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Tuan Sing Holdings 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Tuan Sing Holdings burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
On the face of it, Tuan Sing Holdings's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. And furthermore, its interest cover also fails to instill confidence. Considering everything we've mentioned above, it's fair to say that Tuan Sing Holdings is carrying heavy debt load. If you harvest honey without a bee suit, you risk getting stung, so we'd probably stay away from this particular stock. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Tuan Sing Holdings you should be aware of, and 2 of them can't be ignored.
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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