Stock Analysis

Is Acsm-Agam (BIT:ACS) Using Too Much Debt?

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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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Acsm-Agam S.p.A. (BIT:ACS) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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 step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Acsm-Agam

How Much Debt Does Acsm-Agam Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2020 Acsm-Agam had €133.5m of debt, an increase on €113.3m, over one year. On the flip side, it has €4.58m in cash leading to net debt of about €128.9m.

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BIT:ACS Debt to Equity History February 15th 2021

How Strong Is Acsm-Agam's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Acsm-Agam had liabilities of €163.6m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €160.7m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €4.58m in cash and €138.2m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €181.5m.

This deficit isn't so bad because Acsm-Agam is worth €463.8m, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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).

We'd say that Acsm-Agam's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 2.1), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 121 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Importantly, Acsm-Agam's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 26% in the last twelve months. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is Acsm-Agam's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Acsm-Agam burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

To be frank both Acsm-Agam's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. It's also worth noting that Acsm-Agam is in the Gas Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that Acsm-Agam's debt is making it a bit risky. Some people like that sort of risk, but we're mindful of the potential pitfalls, so we'd probably prefer it carry less debt. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with Acsm-Agam .

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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