Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We can see that Piippo Oyj (HEL:PIIPPO) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Piippo Oyj's Debt?
As you can see below, Piippo Oyj had €3.08m of debt at June 2021, down from €8.74m a year prior. However, it also had €304.1k in cash, and so its net debt is €2.78m.
A Look At Piippo Oyj's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Piippo Oyj had liabilities of €7.10m due within a year, and liabilities of €3.08m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of €304.1k and €4.85m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €5.03m.
When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's €4.19m market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Piippo Oyj has net debt worth 2.2 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 3.2 times the interest expense. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. It is well worth noting that Piippo Oyj's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 99% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. 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 Piippo Oyj'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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last two years, Piippo Oyj actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
Both Piippo Oyj's ability to to convert EBIT to free cash flow and its EBIT growth rate gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. But truth be told its level of total liabilities had us nibbling our nails. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Piippo Oyj's debt levels. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should learn about the 3 warning signs we've spotted with Piippo Oyj (including 2 which make us uncomfortable) .
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.