Stock Analysis

Is uniQure (NASDAQ:QURE) A Risky Investment?

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NasdaqGS:QURE
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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. We note that uniQure N.V. (NASDAQ:QURE) 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 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, 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.

See our latest analysis for uniQure

What Is uniQure's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2021 uniQure had US$71.5m of debt, an increase on US$35.5m, over one year. But on the other hand it also has US$578.5m in cash, leading to a US$507.0m net cash position.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:QURE Debt to Equity History February 23rd 2022

How Strong Is uniQure's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that uniQure had liabilities of US$41.9m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$142.0m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$578.5m and US$3.77m worth of receivables due within a year. So it can boast US$398.4m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This surplus strongly suggests that uniQure has a rock-solid balance sheet (and the debt is of no concern whatsoever). Having regard to this fact, we think its balance sheet is as strong as an ox. Simply put, the fact that uniQure has more cash than debt is arguably a good indication that it can manage its debt safely.

It was also good to see that despite losing money on the EBIT line last year, uniQure turned things around in the last 12 months, delivering and EBIT of US$295m. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if uniQure can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. While uniQure has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. Over the last year, uniQure recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 95% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Summing up

While we empathize with investors who find debt concerning, you should keep in mind that uniQure has net cash of US$507.0m, as well as more liquid assets than liabilities. The cherry on top was that in converted 95% of that EBIT to free cash flow, bringing in US$281m. So we don't think uniQure's use of debt is risky. 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. For example uniQure has 4 warning signs (and 1 which is potentially serious) we think you should know about.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether uniQure is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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