Is Cellularline (BIT:CELL) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
May 10, 2022
BIT:CELL
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 can see that Cellularline S.p.A. (BIT:CELL) does use debt in its business. 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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Cellularline

What Is Cellularline's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Cellularline had debt of €43.7m at the end of December 2021, a reduction from €56.6m over a year. However, it does have €8.14m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €35.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
BIT:CELL Debt to Equity History May 10th 2022

How Strong Is Cellularline's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Cellularline had liabilities of €38.0m due within a year, and liabilities of €37.9m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of €8.14m and €54.3m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total €13.4m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given Cellularline has a market capitalization of €82.3m, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

While Cellularline has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 1.9, its interest cover seems weak, at 0.42. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. These charges may be non-cash, so they could be excluded when it comes to paying down debt. But the accounting charges are there for a reason -- some assets are seen to be losing value. Either way there's no doubt the stock is using meaningful leverage. Notably, Cellularline's EBIT launched higher than Elon Musk, gaining a whopping 2,681% on last year. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Cellularline can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Cellularline actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

The good news is that Cellularline's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its interest cover. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Cellularline takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example - Cellularline has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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