- Electric Utilities
Is Neoenergia (BVMF:NEOE3) Using Too Much Debt?
Warren Buffett famously said, '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. We note that Neoenergia S.A. (BVMF:NEOE3) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
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How Much Debt Does Neoenergia Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2022 Neoenergia had debt of R$44.7b, up from R$39.0b in one year. However, it does have R$6.90b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about R$37.8b.
How Strong Is Neoenergia's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Neoenergia had liabilities of R$18.4b due within a year, and liabilities of R$47.0b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had R$6.90b in cash and R$11.5b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling R$47.0b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the R$18.0b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Neoenergia would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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). 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).
Neoenergia's debt is 3.2 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.9 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. However, one redeeming factor is that Neoenergia grew its EBIT at 12% over the last 12 months, boosting its ability to handle 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 Neoenergia 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Neoenergia saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
On the face of it, Neoenergia's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow 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 it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. We should also note that Electric Utilities industry companies like Neoenergia commonly do use debt without problems. We're quite clear that we consider Neoenergia to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Be aware that Neoenergia is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 2 of those are significant...
If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
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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.
Neoenergia S.A. generates, transmits, distributes, trades in, and commercializes electric energy in Brazil.
Good value with proven track record.