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.' 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, Grifols, S.A. (BME:GRF) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Grifols's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Grifols had debt of €6.63b at the end of March 2021, a reduction from €7.20b over a year. However, because it has a cash reserve of €387.1m, its net debt is less, at about €6.25b.
A Look At Grifols' Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Grifols had liabilities of €1.56b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €7.38b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €387.1m as well as receivables valued at €495.8m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €8.06b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit is considerable relative to its very significant market capitalization of €12.2b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Grifols' use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).
With a net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.5, it's fair to say Grifols does have a significant amount of debt. But the good news is that it boasts fairly comforting interest cover of 4.5 times, suggesting it can responsibly service its obligations. Importantly, Grifols's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 22% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. 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 Grifols'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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Grifols recorded free cash flow of 47% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
To be frank both Grifols's net debt to EBITDA and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. Having said that, its ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow isn't such a worry. Overall, it seems to us that Grifols's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Grifols you should be aware of, and 1 of them doesn't sit too well with us.
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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