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 can see that General Plastic Industrial Co., Ltd. (TPE:6128) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does General Plastic Industrial Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of September 2020, General Plastic Industrial had NT$1.90b of debt, up from NT$1.60b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of NT$568.6m, its net debt is less, at about NT$1.33b.
A Look At General Plastic Industrial's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that General Plastic Industrial had liabilities of NT$2.30b due within a year, and liabilities of NT$881.7m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had NT$568.6m in cash and NT$707.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by NT$1.90b.
General Plastic Industrial has a market capitalization of NT$3.48b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate 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 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).
General Plastic Industrial's debt is 4.4 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.1 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Even worse, General Plastic Industrial saw its EBIT tank 77% over the last 12 months. 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 you can't view debt in total isolation; since General Plastic Industrial will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept 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, General Plastic Industrial produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 70% 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.
Mulling over General Plastic Industrial's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making General Plastic Industrial stock a bit risky. Some people like that sort of risk, but we're mindful of the potential pitfalls, so we'd probably prefer it carry less debt. 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 5 warning signs we've spotted with General Plastic Industrial (including 1 which makes us a bit uncomfortable) .
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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