Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That PNE (ETR:PNE3) Is Using Debt In A Risky Way

XTRA:PNE3
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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 PNE AG (ETR:PNE3) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. 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, 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for PNE

What Is PNE's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2023, PNE had €509.7m of debt, up from €451.3m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have €104.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €405.0m.

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XTRA:PNE3 Debt to Equity History October 21st 2023

How Strong Is PNE's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that PNE had liabilities of €132.3m due within 12 months and liabilities of €597.0m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €104.7m and €61.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling €563.4m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of €906.9m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on PNE's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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.

Weak interest cover of 0.27 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 13.4 hit our confidence in PNE like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Worse, PNE's EBIT was down 75% over the last year. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine PNE'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, PNE burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

To be frank both PNE's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. And even its net debt to EBITDA fails to inspire much confidence. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think PNE has too much debt. While some investors love that sort of risky play, it's certainly not our cup of tea. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with PNE .

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.