Stock Analysis

Biogened (WSE:BGD) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

WSE:BGD
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Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Biogened S.A. (WSE:BGD) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Biogened

How Much Debt Does Biogened Carry?

As you can see below, Biogened had zł17.6m of debt at March 2021, down from zł20.2m a year prior. On the flip side, it has zł2.48m in cash leading to net debt of about zł15.1m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
WSE:BGD Debt to Equity History July 29th 2021

How Strong Is Biogened's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Biogened had liabilities of zł18.8m due within 12 months and liabilities of zł10.7m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of zł2.48m and zł24.6m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling zł2.39m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given Biogened has a market capitalization of zł18.2m, 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.

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).

Biogened's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.4 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 3.4 times last year. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. Shareholders should be aware that Biogened's EBIT was down 33% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Biogened will need earnings to service that debt. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.

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, Biogened produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 70% 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

Biogened's struggle to grow its EBIT had us second guessing its balance sheet strength, but the other data-points we considered were relatively redeeming. In particular, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was re-invigorating. We think that Biogened's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 5 warning signs for Biogened (of which 2 are a bit unpleasant!) you should know about.

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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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. 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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