IEC Electronics (NASDAQ:IEC) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
August 12, 2021
Source: Shutterstock

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.' 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 note that IEC Electronics Corp. (NASDAQ:IEC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for IEC Electronics

What Is IEC Electronics's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of April 2021, IEC Electronics had US$31.8m of debt, up from US$29.6m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGM:IEC Debt to Equity History August 13th 2021

A Look At IEC Electronics' Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that IEC Electronics had liabilities of US$55.2m due within a year, and liabilities of US$63.5m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$391.0k in cash and US$45.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$72.5m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

IEC Electronics has a market capitalization of US$162.2m, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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).

IEC Electronics has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.6 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 4.9 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. The bad news is that IEC Electronics saw its EBIT decline by 20% over the last year. If earnings continue to decline at that rate then handling the debt will be more difficult than taking three children under 5 to a fancy pants restaurant. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is IEC Electronics'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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, IEC Electronics burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

On the face of it, IEC Electronics's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. Having said that, its ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT isn't such a worry. We're quite clear that we consider IEC Electronics to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for IEC Electronics that you should be aware of before investing here.

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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