Stock Analysis

We Think PNE (ETR:PNE3) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

XTRA:PNE3
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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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 can see that PNE AG (ETR:PNE3) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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.

Check out the opportunities and risks within the DE Electrical industry.

What Is PNE's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2022 PNE had debt of €451.3m, up from €364.7m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of €160.7m, its net debt is less, at about €290.6m.

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XTRA:PNE3 Debt to Equity History October 27th 2022

How Strong Is PNE's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that PNE had liabilities of €131.7m due within a year, and liabilities of €525.6m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of €160.7m and €52.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €443.7m.

This deficit isn't so bad because PNE is worth €1.46b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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.

Strangely PNE has a sky high EBITDA ratio of 10.6, implying high debt, but a strong interest coverage of 1k. So either it has access to very cheap long term debt or that interest expense is going to grow! We note that PNE grew its EBIT by 24% in the last year, and that should make it 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 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, PNE burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

While PNE's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow has us nervous. For example, its interest cover and EBIT growth rate give us some confidence in its ability to manage its debt. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that PNE is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for PNE 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.

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

Find out whether PNE 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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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.