Stock Analysis

Is Ackermans & Van Haaren (EBR:ACKB) A Risky Investment?

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David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' 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. We note that Ackermans & Van Haaren NV (EBR:ACKB) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Ackermans & Van Haaren

How Much Debt Does Ackermans & Van Haaren Carry?

As you can see below, Ackermans & Van Haaren had €2.14b of debt at December 2022, down from €2.44b a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of €1.71b, its net debt is less, at about €431.6m.

ENXTBR:ACKB Debt to Equity History March 31st 2023

How Strong Is Ackermans & Van Haaren's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Ackermans & Van Haaren had liabilities of €8.76b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €2.92b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €1.71b as well as receivables valued at €3.38b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €6.59b.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of €4.99b, we think shareholders really should watch Ackermans & Van Haaren's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

With net debt sitting at just 0.64 times EBITDA, Ackermans & Van Haaren is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And it boasts interest cover of 7.8 times, which is more than adequate. But the other side of the story is that Ackermans & Van Haaren saw its EBIT decline by 6.0% over the last year. If earnings continue to decline at that rate the company may have increasing difficulty managing its debt load. 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 Ackermans & Van Haaren'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.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Ackermans & Van Haaren actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

Neither Ackermans & Van Haaren's ability to handle its total liabilities nor its EBIT growth rate gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Ackermans & Van Haaren is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Ackermans & Van Haaren (of which 1 is potentially serious!) you should know about.

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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Find out whether Ackermans & Van Haaren is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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