Seri Industrial (BIT:SERI) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

Published
May 20, 2022
BIT:SERI
Source: Shutterstock

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. We note that Seri Industrial S.p.A. (BIT:SERI) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Seri Industrial

How Much Debt Does Seri Industrial Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2021 Seri Industrial had debt of €96.8m, up from €87.6m in one year. However, it also had €20.3m in cash, and so its net debt is €76.5m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
BIT:SERI Debt to Equity History May 20th 2022

How Strong Is Seri Industrial's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Seri Industrial had liabilities of €153.7m due within a year, and liabilities of €71.4m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had €20.3m in cash and €69.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €135.7m.

This deficit isn't so bad because Seri Industrial is worth €358.8m, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

While we wouldn't worry about Seri Industrial's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.0, we think its super-low interest cover of 0.51 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. One redeeming factor for Seri Industrial is that it turned last year's EBIT loss into a gain of €2.0m, over the last twelve months. 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 Seri Industrial'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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Over the last year, Seri Industrial saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

On the face of it, Seri Industrial's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least its EBIT growth rate is not so bad. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear to us that Seri Industrial's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Be aware that Seri Industrial is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , you should know about...

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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About BIT:SERI

Seri Industrial

Seri Industrial S.p.A., through its subsidiaries, engages in the production and recycling of plastic materials for the electric accumulators, automotive, hydro-thermo-sanitary, civil, and naval shipbuilding markets.

High growth potential with mediocre balance sheet.