Here's Why Publicis Groupe (EPA:PUB) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

By
Simply Wall St
Published
August 04, 2021
ENXTPA:PUB
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 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 should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. 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. 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.

See our latest analysis for Publicis Groupe

How Much Debt Does Publicis Groupe Carry?

As you can see below, Publicis Groupe had €4.30b of debt at June 2021, down from €6.70b a year prior. However, it does have €2.96b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €1.34b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ENXTPA:PUB Debt to Equity History August 5th 2021

A Look At Publicis Groupe's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Publicis Groupe had liabilities of €15.4b falling due within a year, and liabilities of €6.01b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of €2.96b and €10.6b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total €7.83b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit isn't so bad because Publicis Groupe is worth a massive €13.6b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

With net debt sitting at just 0.69 times EBITDA, Publicis Groupe is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 8.6 times the interest expense over the last year. Fortunately, Publicis Groupe grew its EBIT by 5.0% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Publicis Groupe 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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Publicis Groupe actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. 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, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its level of total liabilities. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Publicis Groupe can handle its debt fairly comfortably. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. 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. We've identified 3 warning signs with Publicis Groupe , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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