Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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 Brenntag AG (ETR:BNR) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. 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, 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.
How Much Debt Does Brenntag Carry?
As you can see below, Brenntag had €2.03b of debt at September 2020, down from €2.22b a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of €903.0m, its net debt is less, at about €1.12b.
How Healthy Is Brenntag's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Brenntag had liabilities of €2.03b due within 12 months and liabilities of €2.85b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €903.0m as well as receivables valued at €1.89b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €2.09b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Of course, Brenntag has a titanic market capitalization of €10.5b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. 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.
With net debt sitting at just 1.3 times EBITDA, Brenntag is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And it boasts interest cover of 9.5 times, which is more than adequate. Brenntag's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year, but that shouldn't be an issue given the it doesn't have a lot of debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Brenntag'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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Brenntag recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 86% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Happily, Brenntag's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its interest cover also supports that impression! When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Brenntag is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 1 warning sign for Brenntag that you should be aware of.
Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.
If you’re looking to trade Brenntag, open an account with the lowest-cost* platform trusted by professionals, Interactive Brokers. Their clients from over 200 countries and territories trade stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds worldwide from a single integrated account.
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.
*Interactive Brokers Rated Lowest Cost Broker by StockBrokers.com Annual Online Review 2020
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.