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Saipem (BIT:SPM) Could Easily Take On More Debt

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We can see that Saipem S.p.A. (BIT:SPM) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Saipem

How Much Debt Does Saipem Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Saipem had debt of €332.0m at the end of December 2019, a reduction from €2.95b over a year. But on the other hand it also has €1.82b in cash, leading to a €1.48b net cash position.

BIT:SPM Historical Debt April 9th 2020

A Look At Saipem's Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Saipem had liabilities of €4.70b due within 12 months, and liabilities of -€3.4b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had €1.82b in cash and €3.88b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it can boast €4.36b more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This luscious liquidity implies that Saipem's balance sheet is sturdy like a giant sequoia tree. On this basis we think its balance sheet is strong like a sleek panther or even a proud lion. Succinctly put, Saipem boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

It is well worth noting that Saipem's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 39% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Saipem can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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. Saipem may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Happily for any shareholders, Saipem actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Summing up

While it is always sensible to investigate a company's debt, in this case Saipem has €1.48b in net cash and a strong balance sheet. The cherry on top was that in converted 106% of that EBIT to free cash flow, bringing in €921m. When it comes to Saipem's debt, we sufficiently relaxed that our mind turns to the jacuzzi. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Saipem that you should be aware of.

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.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.