Stock Analysis

We Think Compagnie des Alpes (EPA:CDA) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

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Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Compagnie des Alpes SA (EPA:CDA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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 think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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How Much Debt Does Compagnie des Alpes Carry?

As you can see below, Compagnie des Alpes had €639.5m of debt at September 2022, down from €851.6m a year prior. On the flip side, it has €303.9m in cash leading to net debt of about €335.6m.

ENXTPA:CDA Debt to Equity History March 15th 2023

A Look At Compagnie des Alpes' Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Compagnie des Alpes had liabilities of €517.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €755.4m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €303.9m as well as receivables valued at €95.6m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €873.6m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's €659.4m market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Compagnie des Alpes's net debt is only 1.1 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 10.5 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. It was also good to see that despite losing money on the EBIT line last year, Compagnie des Alpes turned things around in the last 12 months, delivering and EBIT of €169m. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Compagnie des Alpes can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Compagnie des Alpes actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last year. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

Compagnie des Alpes's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was a real positive on this analysis, as was its interest cover. 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 Compagnie des Alpes'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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 1 warning sign for Compagnie des Alpes that 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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Find out whether Compagnie des Alpes is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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