Here's Why Colas (EPA:RE) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 21, 2021
ENXTPA:RE
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. As with many other companies Colas SA (EPA:RE) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. 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.

View our latest analysis for Colas

What Is Colas's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Colas had €1.01b of debt at June 2021, down from €1.41b a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of €395.0m, its net debt is less, at about €618.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ENXTPA:RE Debt to Equity History December 21st 2021

A Look At Colas' Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Colas had liabilities of €6.05b due within 12 months and liabilities of €1.84b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €395.0m in cash and €4.87b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €2.63b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of €4.10b. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Colas has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.75. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 10.8 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Even more impressive was the fact that Colas grew its EBIT by 102% over twelve months. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Colas will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Colas actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

The good news is that Colas's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But truth be told we feel its level of total liabilities does undermine this impression a bit. Zooming out, Colas seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Colas (1 doesn't sit too well with us) 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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