Is Pharming Group (AMS:PHARM) A Risky Investment?

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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, ‘The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about… and every practical investor I know worries about.’ 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. Importantly, Pharming Group N.V. (AMS:PHARM) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Pharming Group

What Is Pharming Group’s Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Pharming Group had debt of €71.5m at the end of March 2019, a reduction from €78.6m over a year. However, it also had €65.3m in cash, and so its net debt is €6.20m.

ENXTAM:PHARM Historical Debt, July 11th 2019
ENXTAM:PHARM Historical Debt, July 11th 2019

A Look At Pharming Group’s Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Pharming Group had liabilities of €62.3m due within 12 months and liabilities of €68.2m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of €65.3m as well as receivables valued at €22.8m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €42.4m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Of course, Pharming Group has a market capitalization of €480.9m, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. Carrying virtually no net debt, Pharming Group has a very light debt load indeed.

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.

Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 0.13 and interest cover of 2.65 times, it seems to us that Pharming Group is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. Importantly, Pharming Group grew its EBIT by 60% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Pharming Group’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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. Over the last two years, Pharming Group 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

Pharming Group’s conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14’s goalkeeper. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its interest cover. Zooming out, Pharming Group seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to the extra confidence that we’d gain if we knew that Pharming Group insiders have been buying shares: if you’re on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

If you’re interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.