Bayerische Motoren Werke (ETR:BMW) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

Simply Wall St
November 02, 2021
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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft (ETR:BMW) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Bayerische Motoren Werke

How Much Debt Does Bayerische Motoren Werke Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Bayerische Motoren Werke had €101.9b of debt in June 2021, down from €115.0b, one year before. On the flip side, it has €17.2b in cash leading to net debt of about €84.7b.

XTRA:BMW Debt to Equity History November 3rd 2021

A Look At Bayerische Motoren Werke's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Bayerische Motoren Werke had liabilities of €74.3b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €79.0b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €17.2b in cash and €3.41b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €132.6b.

This deficit casts a shadow over the €57.7b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Bayerische Motoren Werke would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

As it happens Bayerische Motoren Werke has a fairly concerning net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.2 but very strong interest coverage of 58.6. So either it has access to very cheap long term debt or that interest expense is going to grow! Pleasingly, Bayerische Motoren Werke is growing its EBIT faster than former Australian PM Bob Hawke downs a yard glass, boasting a 132% gain in the last twelve months. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Bayerische Motoren Werke 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, 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, Bayerische Motoren Werke's free cash flow amounted to 29% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

On the face of it, Bayerische Motoren Werke's net debt to EBITDA left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its interest cover 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 Bayerische Motoren Werke 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. 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 example Bayerische Motoren Werke has 3 warning signs (and 2 which shouldn't be ignored) we think you should know about.

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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