Stock Analysis

We Think Aecon Group (TSE:ARE) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

TSX:ARE
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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.' 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 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. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Aecon Group

What Is Aecon Group's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2021 Aecon Group had debt of CA$779.6m, up from CA$563.3m in one year. However, it does have CA$532.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CA$247.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:ARE Debt to Equity History March 4th 2022

How Strong Is Aecon Group's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Aecon Group had liabilities of CA$1.47b due within 12 months and liabilities of CA$903.7m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$532.7m as well as receivables valued at CA$1.42b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CA$418.9m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Aecon Group has a market capitalization of CA$960.4m, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Aecon Group has a very low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.3 so it is strange to see weak interest coverage, with last year's EBIT being only 2.3 times the interest expense. So one way or the other, it's clear the debt levels are not trivial. Importantly, Aecon Group grew its EBIT by 97% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier 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 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. In the last three years, Aecon Group's free cash flow amounted to 21% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

On our analysis Aecon Group's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. In particular, interest cover gives us cold feet. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Aecon Group's use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. 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. For example - Aecon Group has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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.