Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. Importantly, STEICO SE (ETR:ST5) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is STEICO's Net Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, STEICO had €110.5m of debt, up from €99.1m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had €17.1m in cash, and so its net debt is €93.5m.
How Healthy Is STEICO's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that STEICO had liabilities of €21.6m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €143.0m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €17.1m in cash and €28.6m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €118.9m.
STEICO has a market capitalization of €321.1m, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). 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).
We'd say that STEICO's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 2.1), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its strong interest cover of 18.6 times, makes us even more comfortable. We saw STEICO grow its EBIT by 4.5% in the last twelve months. Whilst that hardly knocks our socks off it is a positive when it comes to debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine STEICO's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
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 three years, STEICO 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.
Neither STEICO's ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But its interest cover tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that STEICO is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of STEICO's earnings per share history for free.
At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.
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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.