Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about. 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, Aéroports de Paris SA (EPA:ADP) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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 Aéroports de Paris Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 Aéroports de Paris had €7.63b of debt, an increase on €6.76b, over one year. However, it does have €2.17b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €5.47b.
A Look At Aéroports de Paris's Liabilities
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Aéroports de Paris had liabilities of €2.50b due within 12 months and liabilities of €8.44b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €2.17b as well as receivables valued at €1.05b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €7.72b.
This deficit isn't so bad because Aéroports de Paris is worth a massive €16.9b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
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.
Aéroports de Paris's debt is 2.9 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 6.2 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. If Aéroports de Paris can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 16% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Aéroports de Paris'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.
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. In the last three years, Aéroports de Paris's free cash flow amounted to 36% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
On our analysis Aéroports de Paris's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit handle its debt, based on its EBITDA,. We would also note that Infrastructure industry companies like Aéroports de Paris commonly do use debt without problems. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Aéroports de Paris's use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Aéroports de Paris, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.
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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