The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. Importantly, Grupo Ezentis S.A. (BME:EZE) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, 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 Grupo Ezentis's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 Grupo Ezentis had debt of €123.5m, up from €106.7m in one year. However, it does have €39.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €84.0m.
How Strong Is Grupo Ezentis's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Grupo Ezentis had liabilities of €212.7m due within a year, and liabilities of €119.5m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €39.5m as well as receivables valued at €131.6m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €161.1m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of €163.5m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Grupo Ezentis's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Even though Grupo Ezentis's debt is only 2.2, its interest cover is really very low at 0.67. This does have us wondering if the company pays high interest because it is considered risky. Either way there's no doubt the stock is using meaningful leverage. One way Grupo Ezentis could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but conitinues to grow EBIT at around 15%, as it did over the last year. 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 Grupo Ezentis'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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Grupo Ezentis recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 82% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Grupo Ezentis's interest cover and level of total liabilities definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. We think that Grupo Ezentis's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. Even though Grupo Ezentis lost money on the bottom line, its positive EBIT suggests the business itself has potential. So you might want to check outhow earnings have been trending over the last few years.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
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