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. We note that Eni S.p.A. (BIT:ENI) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Eni's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 Eni had €25.3b of debt, an increase on €24.0b, over one year. On the flip side, it has €17.2b in cash leading to net debt of about €8.08b.
A Look At Eni's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Eni had liabilities of €30.6b due within a year, and liabilities of €43.2b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had €17.2b in cash and €15.1b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €41.6b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit is considerable relative to its very significant market capitalization of €52.4b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Eni's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Eni has a low debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.45. And remarkably, despite having net debt, it actually received more in interest over the last twelve months than it had to pay. So there's no doubt this company can take on debt while staying cool as a cucumber. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Eni has boosted its EBIT by 33%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Eni'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. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Eni's free cash flow amounted to 40% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
Eni's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But truth be told we feel its level of total liabilities does undermine this impression a bit. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Eni can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. Given Eni has a strong balance sheet is profitable and pays a dividend, it would be good to know how fast its dividends are growing, if at all. You can find out instantly by clicking this link.
If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
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