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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. Importantly, Carraro S.p.A. (BIT:CARR) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. 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.
What Is Carraro's Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of December 2020, Carraro had €500.7m of debt, up from €209.3m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of €350.4m, its net debt is less, at about €150.4m.
How Healthy Is Carraro's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Carraro had liabilities of €243.8m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €488.4m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €350.4m in cash and €94.7m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €287.2m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the €184.2m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Carraro would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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.
While we wouldn't worry about Carraro's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.9, we think its super-low interest cover of 0.92 times is a sign of high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Worse, Carraro's EBIT was down 49% over the last year. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball's chance in hell of paying off that debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Carraro'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, 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. In the last three years, Carraro's free cash flow amounted to 40% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
To be frank both Carraro's interest cover and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is not so bad. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Carraro has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn't float our boat. 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. Be aware that Carraro is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those is concerning...
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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