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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. Importantly, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (TSE:SNC) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, 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.
How Much Debt Does SNC-Lavalin Group Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of September 2020, SNC-Lavalin Group had CA$2.25b of debt, up from CA$2.06b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have CA$1.54b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CA$713.0m.
How Strong Is SNC-Lavalin Group's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that SNC-Lavalin Group had liabilities of CA$4.48b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CA$3.36b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$1.54b as well as receivables valued at CA$2.96b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$3.35b.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of CA$3.73b. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
While SNC-Lavalin Group has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 2.0, its interest cover seems weak, at 1.2. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. While companies often boast that these charges are non-cash, most such businesses will therefore require ongoing investment (that is not expensed.) In any case, it's safe to say the company has meaningful debt. Notably, SNC-Lavalin Group made a loss at the EBIT level, last year, but improved that to positive EBIT of CA$109m in the last twelve months. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if SNC-Lavalin Group 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 it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Over the last year, SNC-Lavalin Group actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.
SNC-Lavalin Group's interest cover and level of total liabilities definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. We think that SNC-Lavalin Group's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. 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. Consider for instance, the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We've identified 1 warning sign with SNC-Lavalin Group , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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.
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