We Think Dominion Energy (NYSE:D) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

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 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 Dominion Energy, Inc. (NYSE:D) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can’t easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can’t fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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 Dominion Energy

What Is Dominion Energy’s Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Dominion Energy had debt of US$40.0b at the end of June 2020, a reduction from US$42.0b over a year. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn’t have much cash.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:D Debt to Equity History August 31st 2020

How Healthy Is Dominion Energy’s Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Dominion Energy had liabilities of US$9.54b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$63.3b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$675.0m and US$2.27b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$69.9b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company’s huge US$65.5b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

In order to size up a company’s debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Dominion Energy’s debt is 4.4 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.3 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn’t want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. The good news is that Dominion Energy grew its EBIT a smooth 79% over the last twelve months. Like a mother’s loving embrace of a newborn that sort of growth builds resilience, putting the company in a stronger position to manage its 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 Dominion Energy 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. So it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Dominion Energy recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.

Our View

To be frank both Dominion Energy’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 Integrated Utilities industry companies like Dominion Energy commonly do use debt without problems. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that Dominion Energy’s debt is making it 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. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. Take risks, for example – Dominion Energy has 5 warning signs (and 1 which is a bit concerning) we think you should know about.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don’t even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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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