February 28, 2024

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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Fincantieri S.p.A. (BIT:FCT) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. 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 Fincantieri
As you can see below, at the end of June 2022, Fincantieri had €4.66b of debt, up from €4.37b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of €708.4m, its net debt is less, at about €3.95b.
According to the last reported balance sheet, Fincantieri had liabilities of €6.73b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €2.36b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had €708.4m in cash and €5.21b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €3.17b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit casts a shadow over the €777.8m company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Fincantieri would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (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).
Fincantieri shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (14.4), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.8 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Worse, Fincantieri's EBIT was down 40% over the last year. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball's chance in hell of paying off that 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 Fincantieri's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Fincantieri 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 Fincantieri's EBIT growth rate and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. And furthermore, its net debt to EBITDA also fails to instill confidence. Considering everything we've mentioned above, it's fair to say that Fincantieri is carrying heavy debt load. If you play with fire you risk getting burnt, so we'd probably give this stock a wide berth. Even though Fincantieri lost money on the bottom line, its positive EBIT suggests the business itself has potential. So you might want to check out how earnings have been trending over the last few years.
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.
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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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Fincantieri S.p.A. operates in the shipbuilding industry.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Undervalued with reasonable growth potential.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
Fincantieri S.p.A. operates in the shipbuilding industry.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Undervalued with reasonable growth potential.
Simply Wall Street Pty Ltd (ACN 600 056 611), is a Corporate Authorised Representative (Authorised Representative Number: 467183) of Sanlam Private Wealth Pty Ltd (AFSL No. 337927). Any advice contained in this website is general advice only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should not rely on any advice and/or information contained in this website and before making any investment decision we recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your situation and seek appropriate financial, taxation and legal advice. Please read our Financial Services Guide before deciding whether to obtain financial services from us.

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