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.' 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 Grand City Properties S.A. (ETR:GYC) 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. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Grand City Properties's Net Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of September 2021, Grand City Properties had €4.54b of debt, up from €4.30b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has €1.26b in cash leading to net debt of about €3.27b.
How Healthy Is Grand City Properties' Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Grand City Properties had liabilities of €753.7m due within 12 months, and liabilities of €5.00b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €1.26b as well as receivables valued at €453.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €4.03b.
When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's €3.40b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Grand City Properties has a rather high debt to EBITDA ratio of 11.0 which suggests a meaningful debt load. But the good news is that it boasts fairly comforting interest cover of 6.1 times, suggesting it can responsibly service its obligations. Notably Grand City Properties's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year. Ideally it can diminish its debt load by kick-starting earnings growth. 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 Grand City Properties 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Grand City Properties produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 78% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Grand City Properties's net debt to EBITDA was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered cast it in a significantly better light. In particular, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was re-invigorating. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that Grand City Properties is taking some risks with its use of debt. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Grand City Properties you should be aware of, and 1 of them is concerning.
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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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.