Is West African Resources (ASX:WAF) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 17, 2021
ASX:WAF
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, West African Resources Limited (ASX:WAF) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for West African Resources

How Much Debt Does West African Resources Carry?

As you can see below, West African Resources had AU$148.7m of debt at June 2021, down from AU$287.3m a year prior. On the flip side, it has AU$60.9m in cash leading to net debt of about AU$87.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:WAF Debt to Equity History December 17th 2021

How Healthy Is West African Resources' Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that West African Resources had liabilities of AU$232.7m due within 12 months and liabilities of AU$54.9m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of AU$60.9m as well as receivables valued at AU$32.7m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling AU$193.9m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Of course, West African Resources has a market capitalization of AU$1.32b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

With net debt sitting at just 0.29 times EBITDA, West African Resources is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And it boasts interest cover of 9.7 times, which is more than adequate. Better yet, West African Resources grew its EBIT by 1,292% last year, which is an impressive improvement. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. 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 West African Resources 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Considering the last two years, West African Resources actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. 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

West African Resources'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 we must concede we find its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow has the opposite effect. All these things considered, it appears that West African Resources can comfortably handle its current debt levels. 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. 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 example West African Resources has 3 warning signs (and 1 which shouldn't be ignored) 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.

Discounted cash flow calculation for every stock

Simply Wall St does a detailed discounted cash flow calculation every 6 hours for every stock on the market, so if you want to find the intrinsic value of any company just search here. It’s FREE.

Make Confident Investment Decisions

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.