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 can see that AVG Logistics Limited (NSE:AVG) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is AVG Logistics’s Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2020 AVG Logistics had ₹672.4m of debt, an increase on ₹645.7m, over one year. However, it does have ₹49.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about ₹622.7m.
How Healthy Is AVG Logistics’ Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, AVG Logistics had liabilities of ₹916.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of ₹338.0m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had ₹49.7m in cash and ₹1.07b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹139.4m.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since AVG Logistics has a market capitalization of ₹606.4m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it’s clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).
While we wouldn’t worry about AVG Logistics’s net debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.1, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.0 times is a sign of high leverage. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Worse, AVG Logistics’s EBIT was down 37% over the last year. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball’s chance in hell of paying off that debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is AVG Logistics’s earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So when considering debt, it’s definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, AVG Logistics 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.
On the face of it, AVG Logistics’s conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us…