Is CBRE Group (NYSE:CBRE) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 13, 2022
NYSE:CBRE
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 can see that CBRE Group, Inc. (NYSE:CBRE) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for CBRE Group

What Is CBRE Group's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2021 CBRE Group had debt of US$3.23b, up from US$2.98b in one year. However, it does have US$2.77b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$465.1m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:CBRE Debt to Equity History January 13th 2022

How Strong Is CBRE Group's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that CBRE Group had liabilities of US$7.44b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$3.89b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$2.77b in cash and US$4.96b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$3.60b.

Given CBRE Group has a humongous market capitalization of US$34.9b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. But either way, CBRE Group has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

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.

CBRE Group's net debt is only 0.19 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 32.4 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. In addition to that, we're happy to report that CBRE Group has boosted its EBIT by 60%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if CBRE Group 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, CBRE Group actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

Happily, CBRE Group's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. We think CBRE Group is no more beholden to its lenders, than the birds are to birdwatchers. To our minds it has a healthy happy balance sheet. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Be aware that CBRE Group is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , 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.

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