Stock Analysis

Here's Why Bilfinger (ETR:GBF) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

XTRA:GBF
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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. Importantly, Bilfinger SE (ETR:GBF) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Bilfinger

What Is Bilfinger's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2021 Bilfinger had debt of €562.8m, up from €374.8m in one year. But it also has €840.8m in cash to offset that, meaning it has €278.0m net cash.

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XTRA:GBF Debt to Equity History February 11th 2022

A Look At Bilfinger's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Bilfinger had liabilities of €1.34b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €745.3m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €840.8m and €1.08b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total €160.5m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Since publicly traded Bilfinger shares are worth a total of €1.45b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Bilfinger boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

It was also good to see that despite losing money on the EBIT line last year, Bilfinger turned things around in the last 12 months, delivering and EBIT of €188m. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Bilfinger 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. Bilfinger may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Considering the last year, Bilfinger actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is far more risky for companies with unreliable free cash flow, so shareholders should be hoping that the past expenditure will produce free cash flow in the future.

Summing up

Although Bilfinger's balance sheet isn't particularly strong, due to the total liabilities, it is clearly positive to see that it has net cash of €278.0m. So we are not troubled with Bilfinger's debt use. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example Bilfinger has 3 warning signs (and 2 which are significant) we think you should know about.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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.