We Think S.S. Lazio (BIT:SSL) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 11, 2021
BIT:SSL
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.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that S.S. Lazio S.p.A. (BIT:SSL) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for S.S. Lazio

How Much Debt Does S.S. Lazio Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that S.S. Lazio had debt of €51.3m at the end of December 2020, a reduction from €57.8m over a year. However, it also had €40.6m in cash, and so its net debt is €10.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
BIT:SSL Debt to Equity History April 12th 2021

How Strong Is S.S. Lazio's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that S.S. Lazio had liabilities of €210.4m due within a year, and liabilities of €86.5m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €40.6m as well as receivables valued at €78.7m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €177.5m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the €77.4m 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 definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, S.S. Lazio would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

S.S. Lazio has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.26. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 39.7 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. It was also good to see that despite losing money on the EBIT line last year, S.S. Lazio turned things around in the last 12 months, delivering and EBIT of €8.5m. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since S.S. Lazio will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

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, S.S. Lazio actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

While S.S. Lazio's level of total liabilities has us nervous. For example, its interest cover and conversion of EBIT to free cash flow give us some confidence in its ability to manage its debt. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that S.S. Lazio is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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. To that end, you should learn about the 3 warning signs we've spotted with S.S. Lazio (including 2 which are potentially serious) .

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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