Stock Analysis

Putprop (JSE:PPR) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

JSE:PPR
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David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We note that Putprop Limited (JSE:PPR) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is Putprop's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2022 Putprop had debt of R531.3m, up from R493.6m in one year. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

debt-equity-history-analysis
JSE:PPR Debt to Equity History June 23rd 2023

A Look At Putprop's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Putprop had liabilities of R30.8m due within a year, and liabilities of R592.0m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had R9.94m in cash and R36.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by R576.0m.

This deficit casts a shadow over the R137.0m company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Putprop would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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.

Putprop shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (8.3), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.7 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. However, one redeeming factor is that Putprop grew its EBIT at 14% over the last 12 months, boosting its ability to handle its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Putprop will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

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, Putprop's free cash flow amounted to 44% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

On the face of it, Putprop's net debt to EBITDA left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. We're quite clear that we consider Putprop to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Putprop you should be aware of, and 2 of them are significant.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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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.