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 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, EDP - Energias de Portugal, S.A. (ELI:EDP) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is EDP - Energias de Portugal's Net Debt?
As you can see below, EDP - Energias de Portugal had €16.7b of debt, at June 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it also had €1.57b in cash, and so its net debt is €15.1b.
How Strong Is EDP - Energias de Portugal's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that EDP - Energias de Portugal had liabilities of €7.86b due within a year, and liabilities of €21.9b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of €1.57b and €4.25b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €24.0b.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's massive market capitalization of €19.2b, we think shareholders really should watch EDP - Energias de Portugal's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
EDP - Energias de Portugal has a rather high debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.4 which suggests a meaningful debt load. But the good news is that it boasts fairly comforting interest cover of 4.1 times, suggesting it can responsibly service its obligations. On a slightly more positive note, EDP - Energias de Portugal grew its EBIT at 20% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage 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 EDP - Energias de Portugal 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, EDP - Energias de Portugal burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
To be frank both EDP - Energias de Portugal's net debt to EBITDA and its track record of converting EBIT to free cash flow make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. We should also note that Electric Utilities industry companies like EDP - Energias de Portugal commonly do use debt without problems. We're quite clear that we consider EDP - Energias de Portugal to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. 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. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for EDP - Energias de Portugal (1 doesn't sit too well with us) you should be aware of.
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.
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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