Stock Analysis

Is Publicis Groupe (EPA:PUB) Using Too Much Debt?

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ENXTPA:PUB
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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 Publicis Groupe S.A. (EPA:PUB) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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 Publicis Groupe Carry?

As you can see below, Publicis Groupe had €3.91b of debt, at June 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has €3.68b in cash leading to net debt of about €226.0m.

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ENXTPA:PUB Debt to Equity History December 8th 2023

A Look At Publicis Groupe's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Publicis Groupe had liabilities of €18.6b due within a year, and liabilities of €5.97b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had €3.68b in cash and €13.1b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €7.76b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Publicis Groupe has a very large market capitalization of €19.7b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt. Carrying virtually no net debt, Publicis Groupe has a very light debt load indeed.

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 debt at a measly 0.092 times EBITDA and EBIT covering interest a whopping 47.6 times, it's clear that Publicis Groupe is not a desperate borrower. So relative to past earnings, the debt load seems trivial. And we also note warmly that Publicis Groupe grew its EBIT by 16% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. 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'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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Publicis Groupe 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 Publicis Groupe's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Looking at the bigger picture, we think Publicis Groupe's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for Publicis Groupe you should know about.

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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