Gefran (BIT:GE) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

By
Simply Wall St
Published
May 22, 2021
BIT:GE
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. Importantly, Gefran S.p.A. (BIT:GE) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for Gefran

How Much Debt Does Gefran Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2020 Gefran had debt of €43.1m, up from €34.7m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of €41.9m, its net debt is less, at about €1.19m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
BIT:GE Debt to Equity History May 23rd 2021

A Look At Gefran's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Gefran had liabilities of €49.1m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €35.7m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €41.9m in cash and €35.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €7.81m.

Given Gefran has a market capitalization of €113.3m, 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. But either way, Gefran has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Gefran has very little debt (net of cash), and boasts a debt to EBITDA ratio of 0.082 and EBIT of 20.6 times the interest expense. So relative to past earnings, the debt load seems trivial. On the other hand, Gefran's EBIT dived 18%, over the last year. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Gefran can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Gefran produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 66% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Happily, Gefran's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But we must concede we find its EBIT growth rate has the opposite effect. All these things considered, it appears that Gefran can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for Gefran that you should be aware of.

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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