Does Atlantia (BIT:ATL) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 23, 2021
BIT:ATL
Source: Shutterstock

The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. As with many other companies Atlantia SpA (BIT:ATL) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for Atlantia

What Is Atlantia's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Atlantia had €38.7b of debt at September 2021, down from €54.9b a year prior. However, it also had €7.28b in cash, and so its net debt is €31.4b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
BIT:ATL Debt to Equity History November 24th 2021

A Look At Atlantia's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Atlantia had liabilities of €24.6b due within a year, and liabilities of €43.6b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €7.28b as well as receivables valued at €2.45b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €58.5b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the €13.6b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Atlantia would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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). 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).

Atlantia shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (7.4), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.69 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. The good news is that Atlantia grew its EBIT a smooth 71% over the last twelve months. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Atlantia 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Atlantia actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

While Atlantia's level of total liabilities has us nervous. To wit both its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and EBIT growth rate were encouraging signs. We should also note that Infrastructure industry companies like Atlantia commonly do use debt without problems. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Atlantia's debt poses some risks to the business. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example - Atlantia has 1 warning sign we think 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.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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Simply Wall St

Simply Wall St is focused on providing unbiased, high-quality research coverage on every listed company in the world. Our research team consists of data scientists and multiple equity analysts with over two decades worth of financial markets experience between them.