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. We can see that Rubis (EPA:RUI) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Rubis’s Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 Rubis had €1.75b of debt, an increase on €1.5k, over one year. However, it does have €849.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €904.3m.
How Strong Is Rubis’s Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Rubis had liabilities of €1.24b due within 12 months and liabilities of €1.73b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €849.5m and €752.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €1.38b.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Rubis has a market capitalization of €5.65b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
We measure a company’s debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Rubis’s net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.7 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 17.9 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Fortunately, Rubis grew its EBIT by 8.3% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. 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 Rubis’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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Rubis’s free cash flow amounted to 23% of its EBIT, less than we’d expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
On our analysis Rubis’s interest cover should signal that it won’t have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren’t so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to convert EBIT to free cash flow. We would also note that Gas Utilities industry companies like Rubis commonly do use debt without problems. Considering this range of data points, we think Rubis is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. Like risks, for instance. Every company has them, and we’ve spotted 2 warning signs for Rubis (of which 1 is significant!) you should know about.
At the end of the day, it’s often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It’s free.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.
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