Stock Analysis

Vonovia (ETR:VNA) Seems To Be Using A Lot Of Debt

XTRA:VNA
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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.' 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. Importantly, Vonovia SE (ETR:VNA) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Vonovia

How Much Debt Does Vonovia Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2022 Vonovia had debt of €45.7b, up from €29.5b in one year. However, it does have €1.57b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €44.1b.

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XTRA:VNA Debt to Equity History November 2nd 2022

A Look At Vonovia's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Vonovia had liabilities of €4.65b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €64.0b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €1.57b and €644.5m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling €66.4b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the €18.3b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Vonovia would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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.

With a net debt to EBITDA ratio of 20.8, it's fair to say Vonovia does have a significant amount of debt. But the good news is that it boasts fairly comforting interest cover of 3.1 times, suggesting it can responsibly service its obligations. Worse, Vonovia's EBIT was down 28% 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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Vonovia's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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. 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, Vonovia generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 88% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

On the face of it, Vonovia's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. We're quite clear that we consider Vonovia to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 5 warning signs for Vonovia (of which 1 is potentially serious!) you should know about.

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.