Stock Analysis

Is Delta Apparel (NYSEMKT:DLA) A Risky Investment?

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NYSEAM:DLA
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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.' 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. We note that Delta Apparel, Inc. (NYSEMKT:DLA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for Delta Apparel

How Much Debt Does Delta Apparel Carry?

As you can see below, Delta Apparel had US$121.3m of debt at January 2021, down from US$128.9m a year prior. However, it also had US$10.3m in cash, and so its net debt is US$111.1m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
AMEX:DLA Debt to Equity History April 16th 2021

A Look At Delta Apparel's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Delta Apparel had liabilities of US$96.5m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$181.0m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$10.3m as well as receivables valued at US$64.8m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$202.3m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$184.3m, we think shareholders really should watch Delta Apparel's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

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.

Delta Apparel's debt is 3.4 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 2.9 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. However, one redeeming factor is that Delta Apparel grew its EBIT at 18% over the last 12 months, boosting its ability to handle its debt. 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 Delta Apparel's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Delta Apparel recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 93% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

Neither Delta Apparel's ability to handle its total liabilities nor its interest cover gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. We think that Delta Apparel's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Delta Apparel .

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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