Stock Analysis

Is Aspen Pharmacare Holdings (JSE:APN) A Risky Investment?

JSE:APN
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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.' 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. Importantly, Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Limited (JSE:APN) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. 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.

View our latest analysis for Aspen Pharmacare Holdings

How Much Debt Does Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Aspen Pharmacare Holdings had debt of R24.5b at the end of June 2021, a reduction from R41.8b over a year. On the flip side, it has R8.56b in cash leading to net debt of about R15.9b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
JSE:APN Debt to Equity History December 24th 2021

How Healthy Is Aspen Pharmacare Holdings' Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Aspen Pharmacare Holdings had liabilities of R36.8b falling due within a year, and liabilities of R7.31b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of R8.56b as well as receivables valued at R10.4b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total R25.1b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit isn't so bad because Aspen Pharmacare Holdings is worth R101.1b, 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.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Aspen Pharmacare Holdings's net debt of 1.7 times EBITDA suggests graceful use of debt. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 7.5 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. The good news is that Aspen Pharmacare Holdings has increased its EBIT by 3.3% over twelve months, which should ease any concerns about debt repayment. 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 Aspen Pharmacare Holdings's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

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. In the last three years, Aspen Pharmacare Holdings's free cash flow amounted to 47% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

Both Aspen Pharmacare Holdings's ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its net debt to EBITDA gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. Having said that, its level of total liabilities somewhat sensitizes us to potential future risks to the balance sheet. Considering this range of data points, we think Aspen Pharmacare Holdings is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Aspen Pharmacare Holdings, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Aspen Pharmacare Holdings is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.