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, Energiekontor AG (ETR:EKT) 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. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Energiekontor's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Energiekontor had debt of €232.9m at the end of June 2019, a reduction from €248.8m over a year. However, it does have €72.1m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €160.8m.
How Healthy Is Energiekontor's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Energiekontor had liabilities of €47.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €234.5m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €72.1m in cash and €17.5m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €192.7m.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of €284.4m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Energiekontor's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
While we wouldn't worry about Energiekontor's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.0, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.8 times is a sign of high leverage. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Worse, Energiekontor's EBIT was down 29% over the last year. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. 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 Energiekontor'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.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Energiekontor generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 93% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
On the face of it, Energiekontor's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Energiekontor stock a bit risky. Some people like that sort of risk, but we're mindful of the potential pitfalls, so we'd probably prefer it carry less debt. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Energiekontor, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.
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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