Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That Aecon Group (TSE:ARE) Is Using Debt Extensively

TSX:ARE
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. Importantly, Aecon Group Inc. (TSE:ARE) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. 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.

View our latest analysis for Aecon Group

What Is Aecon Group's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2022, Aecon Group had CA$814.3m of debt, up from CA$637.2m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had CA$488.5m in cash, and so its net debt is CA$325.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:ARE Debt to Equity History January 4th 2023

How Strong Is Aecon Group's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Aecon Group had liabilities of CA$1.76b due within 12 months, and liabilities of CA$966.0m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of CA$488.5m and CA$1.74b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$491.2m.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of CA$574.7m. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Aecon Group shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (5.1), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.61 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. Worse, Aecon Group's EBIT was down 25% over the last year. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball's chance in hell of paying off that debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Aecon Group 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, 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. During the last three years, Aecon Group produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 60% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

On the face of it, Aecon Group's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Overall, it seems to us that Aecon Group's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. 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. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 4 warning signs for Aecon Group you should be aware of, and 1 of them is concerning.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Aecon Group is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.