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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. As with many other companies Deutsche Post AG (ETR:DPW) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Deutsche Post's Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Deutsche Post had €19.4b in debt in September 2021; about the same as the year before. However, it does have €5.91b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €13.5b.
A Look At Deutsche Post's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Deutsche Post had liabilities of €19.5b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €22.7b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of €5.91b and €10.7b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total €25.6b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Deutsche Post has a huge market capitalization of €69.8b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
We'd say that Deutsche Post's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.5), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 16.0 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Even more impressive was the fact that Deutsche Post grew its EBIT by 152% over twelve months. That boost will make it even 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 Deutsche Post'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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Deutsche Post actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
The good news is that Deutsche Post's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Looking at the bigger picture, we think Deutsche Post's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 1 warning sign with Deutsche Post , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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.
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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.