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. 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. Importantly, Bastei Lübbe AG (ETR:BST) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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 think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Bastei Lübbe Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Bastei Lübbe had debt of €18.7m at the end of June 2019, a reduction from €42.6m over a year. However, because it has a cash reserve of €7.42m, its net debt is less, at about €11.3m.
How Strong Is Bastei Lübbe's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Bastei Lübbe had liabilities of €41.1m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €15.4m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €7.42m and €14.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total €35.1m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of €36.2m. This suggests shareholders would heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Bastei Lübbe has net debt worth 1.7 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 5.6 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. We also note that Bastei Lübbe improved its EBIT from a last year's loss to a positive €6.9m. 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 Bastei Lübbe'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 is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Bastei Lübbe actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last year. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
On our analysis Bastei Lübbe's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to handle its total liabilities. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Bastei Lübbe's debt levels. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. 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 Bastei Lübbe's earnings per share history for free.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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