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. 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. We can see that PGS ASA (OB:PGS) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does PGS Carry?
As you can see below, PGS had US$1.10b of debt at June 2019, down from US$1.20b a year prior. On the flip side, it has US$33.2m in cash leading to net debt of about US$1.07b.
How Healthy Is PGS's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that PGS had liabilities of US$502.1m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$1.27b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$33.2m as well as receivables valued at US$206.0m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$1.54b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$460.4m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet." So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt At the end of the day, PGS would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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.
While PGS's debt to EBITDA ratio (2.5) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.6, suggesting high leverage. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. Pleasingly, PGS is growing its EBIT faster than former Australian PM Bob Hawke downs a yard glass, boasting a 163% gain in the last twelve months. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if PGS can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last two years, PGS actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.
While PGS's level of total liabilities has us nervous. For example, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and EBIT growth rate give us some confidence in its ability to manage its debt. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that PGS is taking some risks with its use of debt. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if PGS insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.