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Is Gesco (ETR:GSC1) Using Too Much Debt?

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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, Gesco AG (ETR:GSC1) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Gesco

What Is Gesco's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, Gesco had €140.2m of debt, up from €118.5m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has €26.0m in cash leading to net debt of about €114.2m.

XTRA:GSC1 Historical Debt, September 1st 2019

How Strong Is Gesco's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Gesco had liabilities of €160.8m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €127.6m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €26.0m and €86.7m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling €175.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of €222.8m. 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.

Gesco's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.7 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 17.5 times, makes us even more comfortable. Notably Gesco's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year. We would prefer to see some earnings growth, because that always helps diminish 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 Gesco'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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Gesco recorded free cash flow of 31% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

Neither Gesco's ability to handle its total liabilities nor its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow 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 Gesco is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. Given Gesco 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.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.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.