Is Constellium (NYSE:CSTM) Using Too Much Debt?

Constellium NV Class A -0.67%

Constellium NV Class A

CSTM

20.70

-0.67%

David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. Importantly, Constellium SE (NYSE:CSTM) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. 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, 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Constellium

What Is Constellium's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Constellium had €1.71b of debt in December 2023, down from €1.89b, one year before. However, it does have €202.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €1.51b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:CSTM Debt to Equity History March 29th 2024

How Healthy Is Constellium's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Constellium had liabilities of €1.39b due within 12 months, and liabilities of €2.41b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had €202.0m in cash and €482.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total €3.11b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of €2.96b, we think shareholders really should watch Constellium'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). 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).

Constellium has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.8 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 2.9 times. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Fortunately, Constellium grew its EBIT by 5.1% in the last year, slowly shrinking its debt relative to earnings. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Constellium 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Constellium recorded free cash flow of 44% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

On the face of it, Constellium's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least its EBIT growth rate is not so bad. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Constellium stock a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Constellium (1 doesn't sit too well with us) you should be aware of.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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