Is Uniper (ETR:UN01) Using Debt Sensibly?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 19, 2021
XTRA:UN01
Source: Shutterstock

Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 Uniper SE (ETR:UN01) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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.

See our latest analysis for Uniper

How Much Debt Does Uniper Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2021 Uniper had debt of €5.76b, up from €1.04b in one year. However, it also had €1.80b in cash, and so its net debt is €3.97b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
XTRA:UN01 Debt to Equity History December 19th 2021

How Strong Is Uniper's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Uniper had liabilities of €94.4b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €43.6b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €1.80b and €12.8b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €123.3b.

This deficit casts a shadow over the €15.0b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Uniper would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Uniper'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.

Over 12 months, Uniper reported revenue of €99b, which is a gain of 98%, although it did not report any earnings before interest and tax. Shareholders probably have their fingers crossed that it can grow its way to profits.

Caveat Emptor

Even though Uniper managed to grow its top line quite deftly, the cold hard truth is that it is losing money on the EBIT line. Its EBIT loss was a whopping €6.2b. Reflecting on this and the significant total liabilities, it's hard to know what to say about the stock because of our intense dis-affinity for it. Like every long-shot we're sure it has a glossy presentation outlining its blue-sky potential. But the reality is that it is low on liquid assets relative to liabilities, and it lost €4.8b in the last year. So we think buying this stock is risky. 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. For example - Uniper has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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