Does Acsion (JSE:ACS) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

Simply Wall St
January 12, 2022
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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.' 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 Acsion Limited (JSE:ACS) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Acsion

How Much Debt Does Acsion Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of August 2021 Acsion had R987.9m of debt, an increase on R635.4m, over one year. However, it also had R244.4m in cash, and so its net debt is R743.5m.

JSE:ACS Debt to Equity History January 12th 2022

How Strong Is Acsion's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Acsion had liabilities of R602.9m falling due within a year, and liabilities of R2.34b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of R244.4m as well as receivables valued at R70.0m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total R2.63b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's R1.92b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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.

Acsion's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.8 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 12.8 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Unfortunately, Acsion saw its EBIT slide 2.4% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then its debt load will grow heavy like the heart of a polar bear watching its sole cub. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Acsion will need earnings to service that debt. 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Acsion generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 90% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

While Acsion's level of total liabilities has us nervous. To wit both its interest cover and conversion of EBIT to free cash flow were encouraging signs. We think that Acsion's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 3 warning signs for Acsion (of which 1 is a bit unpleasant!) you should know about.

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.

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