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.’ 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 can see that High-Tek Harness Enterprise Co., Ltd. (GTSM:3202) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can’t easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well – and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is High-Tek Harness Enterprise’s Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2020 High-Tek Harness Enterprise had debt of NT$902.8m, up from NT$512.6m in one year. However, it does have NT$597.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about NT$305.2m.
A Look At High-Tek Harness Enterprise’s Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that High-Tek Harness Enterprise had liabilities of NT$1.79b falling due within a year, and liabilities of NT$536.9m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of NT$597.5m as well as receivables valued at NT$1.62b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total NT$104.0m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Given High-Tek Harness Enterprise has a market capitalization of NT$2.06b, it’s hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. Having said that, it’s clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.
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.
High-Tek Harness Enterprise has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.3. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 17.6 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Better yet, High-Tek Harness Enterprise grew its EBIT by 178% last year, which is an impressive improvement. If maintained that growth will make the debt even more manageable in the years ahead. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is High-Tek Harness Enterprise’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. Over the last two years, High-Tek Harness Enterprise saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
The good news is that High-Tek Harness Enterprise’s demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that High-Tek Harness Enterprise can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it’s worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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. For example, we’ve discovered 4 warning signs for High-Tek Harness Enterprise (1 can’t be ignored!) that you should be aware of before investing here.
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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