Is Incitec Pivot (ASX:IPL) A Risky Investment?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 22, 2021
ASX:IPL
Source: Shutterstock

Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. Importantly, Incitec Pivot Limited (ASX:IPL) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Incitec Pivot

How Much Debt Does Incitec Pivot Carry?

As you can see below, Incitec Pivot had AU$1.67b of debt at September 2021, down from AU$1.87b a year prior. However, it does have AU$651.8m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about AU$1.02b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:IPL Debt to Equity History December 22nd 2021

A Look At Incitec Pivot's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Incitec Pivot had liabilities of AU$1.53b falling due within a year, and liabilities of AU$2.49b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$651.8m and AU$487.6m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by AU$2.88b.

This deficit isn't so bad because Incitec Pivot is worth AU$6.20b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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.

While Incitec Pivot's low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.2 suggests only modest use of debt, the fact that EBIT only covered the interest expense by 4.7 times last year does give us pause. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. It is well worth noting that Incitec Pivot's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 62% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. 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 Incitec Pivot can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Incitec Pivot recorded free cash flow worth 59% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Incitec Pivot's EBIT growth rate suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its level of total liabilities. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Incitec Pivot can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Be aware that Incitec Pivot is showing 2 warning signs 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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