Does Publicis Groupe (EPA:PUB) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 08, 2021
ENXTPA:PUB
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. As with many other companies Publicis Groupe S.A. (EPA:PUB) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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.

View our latest analysis for Publicis Groupe

What Is Publicis Groupe's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Publicis Groupe had €4.33b of debt in June 2021, down from €6.70b, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of €2.96b, its net debt is less, at about €1.38b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ENXTPA:PUB Debt to Equity History November 9th 2021

How Healthy Is Publicis Groupe's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Publicis Groupe had liabilities of €15.4b due within a year, and liabilities of €6.01b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had €2.96b in cash and €10.6b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €7.83b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Publicis Groupe has a huge market capitalization of €14.4b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without 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.

Publicis Groupe has net debt of just 0.67 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 8.8 times the interest expense over the last year. Also good is that Publicis Groupe grew its EBIT at 11% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage 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 Publicis Groupe'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, Publicis Groupe actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

The good news is that Publicis Groupe'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. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Publicis Groupe is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 3 warning signs with Publicis Groupe , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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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