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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies AngloGold Ashanti Limited (JSE:ANG) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does AngloGold Ashanti Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that AngloGold Ashanti had debt of US$1.93b at the end of June 2021, a reduction from US$2.73b over a year. However, it does have US$1.08b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$848.0m.
A Look At AngloGold Ashanti's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that AngloGold Ashanti had liabilities of US$879.0m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.92b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.08b and US$277.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$2.45b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn't so bad because AngloGold Ashanti is worth US$6.39b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its 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).
AngloGold Ashanti has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.47. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 27.2 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. On top of that, AngloGold Ashanti grew its EBIT by 42% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine AngloGold Ashanti'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, AngloGold Ashanti produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 57% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Happily, AngloGold Ashanti's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Looking at the bigger picture, we think AngloGold Ashanti's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. 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. We've identified 2 warning signs with AngloGold Ashanti , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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