Is Comet Holding (VTX:COTN) A Risky Investment?

Warren Buffett famously said, ‘Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.’ 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. As with many other companies Comet Holding AG (VTX:COTN) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Ultimately, if the company can’t fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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.

See our latest analysis for Comet Holding

What Is Comet Holding’s Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Comet Holding had debt of CHF67.9m at the end of June 2020, a reduction from CHF75.6m over a year. However, it also had CHF48.7m in cash, and so its net debt is CHF19.2m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SWX:COTN Debt to Equity History August 30th 2020

How Strong Is Comet Holding’s Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Comet Holding had liabilities of CHF178.8m falling due within a year, and liabilities of CHF21.7m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CHF48.7m as well as receivables valued at CHF69.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CHF82.2m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Since publicly traded Comet Holding shares are worth a total of CHF1.12b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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.

Comet Holding’s net debt is only 0.45 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 16.3 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Even more impressive was the fact that Comet Holding grew its EBIT by 139% over twelve months. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Comet Holding’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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Comet Holding recorded free cash flow worth 56% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that Comet Holding’s demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Looking at the bigger picture, we think Comet Holding’s use of debt seems quite reasonable and we’re not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you’ve also come to that realization, you’re in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Comet Holding’s earnings per share history for free.

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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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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