Is Assystem (EPA:ASY) A Risky Investment?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
May 13, 2022
ENXTPA:ASY
Source: Shutterstock

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 Assystem S.A. (EPA:ASY) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Assystem

How Much Debt Does Assystem Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2021 Assystem had debt of €90.3m, up from €66.9m in one year. However, it also had €25.7m in cash, and so its net debt is €64.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ENXTPA:ASY Debt to Equity History May 13th 2022

A Look At Assystem's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Assystem had liabilities of €211.0m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €155.1m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €25.7m as well as receivables valued at €189.1m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €151.3m.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Assystem has a market capitalization of €548.9m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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).

We'd say that Assystem's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.9), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 1k times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Importantly, Assystem grew its EBIT by 62% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Assystem'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. 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, Assystem actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

Happily, Assystem's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Zooming out, Assystem 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Assystem .

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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