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 note that Gem Diamonds Limited (LON:GEMD) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
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 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Gem Diamonds Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Gem Diamonds had debt of US$14.7m at the end of June 2021, a reduction from US$23.6m over a year. But it also has US$33.9m in cash to offset that, meaning it has US$19.2m net cash.
A Look At Gem Diamonds' Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Gem Diamonds had liabilities of US$43.1m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$112.0m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$33.9m as well as receivables valued at US$6.55m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$114.6m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$116.4m. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Gem Diamonds boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
Even more impressive was the fact that Gem Diamonds grew its EBIT by 406% over twelve months. If maintained that growth will make the debt even more manageable in the years ahead. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Gem Diamonds's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. Gem Diamonds may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. In the last three years, Gem Diamonds created free cash flow amounting to 4.2% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.
Although Gem Diamonds's balance sheet isn't particularly strong, due to the total liabilities, it is clearly positive to see that it has net cash of US$19.2m. And it impressed us with its EBIT growth of 406% over the last year. So we don't have any problem with Gem Diamonds's use of debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. Be aware that Gem Diamonds is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those shouldn't be ignored…
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.
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.
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