The big risk facing Slater & Gordon Limited shares

Shares of Slater & Gordon Limited (ASX: SGH) are feeling the pinch again today, sliding 3.1% after a brief rebound on Thursday.

The embattled law firm’s share price has sunk to just 25.2 cents, giving the company a market value of just under $89 million. It was valued at more than $2 billion roughly 12 months ago when the shares briefly traded for more than $8 each.

One-year chart; Source: ASX

One-year chart; Source: ASX

Indeed, it has been all downhill since then. Just last week the company announced the resignation of Ms Moana Weir, Group General Counsel and Company Secretary after spending less than two months in the job.

It seems likely that her decision was due to the stresses involved in the role even during that short period, with the company dealing with a major write-down related to its recent Quindell PLC acquisition and the prospect of various shareholder class actions.

In addition, the company is also at the mercy of its banking syndicate, comprised of National Australia Bank Ltd. (ASX: NAB) and Westpac Banking Corp (ASX: WBC). Slater & Gordon is to meet with its syndicate in the hope of securing new loan terms but, if an agreement is not reached by the end of the month, it could be forced to repay its bank loans in their entirety by 31 March, 2017.

The risk facing the business is very clear. As at 31 December, 2015, the bank had drawings of $783 million under the syndicated debt facility. That compares to just under $52 million of cash, a total of $664 million in current liabilities ($4 million of which is classified as short term borrowings) and total cash flows from operations of just $40.8 million during the 2015 financial year (ended 30 June, 2015).

Things aren’t looking good for Slater & Gordon’s shares. Even if the company can rearrange a new deal with its financiers, it’s still a very risky bet and one that Foolish investors should avoid.

Aside from anything else, it seems like a highly unnecessary risk to take, especially considering there are so many other great opportunities out there right now, including this company recently picked by our analysts as the best stock to buy in 2016.

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Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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