South Ocean Holdings (JSE:SOH) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

By
Simply Wall St
Published
October 13, 2021
JSE:SOH
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We can see that South Ocean Holdings Limited (JSE:SOH) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. 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, 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.

Check out our latest analysis for South Ocean Holdings

How Much Debt Does South Ocean Holdings Carry?

As you can see below, South Ocean Holdings had R138.4m of debt at June 2021, down from R161.0m a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of R12.7m, its net debt is less, at about R125.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
JSE:SOH Debt to Equity History October 13th 2021

How Strong Is South Ocean Holdings' Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that South Ocean Holdings had liabilities of R357.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of R50.0m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of R12.7m and R403.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So it actually has R8.40m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This surplus suggests that South Ocean Holdings has a conservative balance sheet, and could probably eliminate its debt without much difficulty.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

South Ocean Holdings has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.0. 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. It was also good to see that despite losing money on the EBIT line last year, South Ocean Holdings turned things around in the last 12 months, delivering and EBIT of R102m. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is South Ocean Holdings'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 is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Over the last year, South Ocean Holdings saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

Based on what we've seen South Ocean Holdings is not finding it easy, given its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. In particular, we are dazzled with its interest cover. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about South Ocean Holdings's debt levels. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. 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 2 warning signs for South Ocean Holdings you should be aware of, and 1 of them 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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