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.' 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. Importantly, eMedia Holdings Limited (JSE:EMH) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is eMedia Holdings's Net Debt?
As you can see below, eMedia Holdings had R564.7m of debt, at March 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have R63.1m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about R501.6m.
How Strong Is eMedia Holdings' Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, eMedia Holdings had liabilities of R793.6m due within 12 months, and liabilities of R927.2m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of R63.1m as well as receivables valued at R430.4m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling R1.23b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of R1.11b, we think shareholders really should watch eMedia Holdings'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.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
We'd say that eMedia Holdings's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.7), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 18.5 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. The modesty of its debt load may become crucial for eMedia Holdings if management cannot prevent a repeat of the 39% cut to EBIT over the last year. When a company sees its earnings tank, it can sometimes find its relationships with its lenders turn sour. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is eMedia 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.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, eMedia Holdings recorded free cash flow of 26% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
We'd go so far as to say eMedia Holdings's EBIT growth rate was disappointing. But at least it's pretty decent at covering its interest expense with its EBIT; that's encouraging. Overall, we think it's fair to say that eMedia Holdings has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. 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 instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for eMedia Holdings that you should be aware of.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
When trading stocks or any other investment, use the platform considered by many to be the Professional's Gateway to the Worlds Market, Interactive Brokers. You get the lowest-cost* trading on stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds worldwide from a single integrated account. Promoted
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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.
*Interactive Brokers Rated Lowest Cost Broker by StockBrokers.com Annual Online Review 2020
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.