Stock Analysis

Here's Why Loblaw Companies (TSE:L) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

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TSX:L
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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, Loblaw Companies Limited (TSE:L) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. 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 Loblaw Companies

What Is Loblaw Companies's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Loblaw Companies had debt of CA$7.42b at the end of June 2021, a reduction from CA$8.24b over a year. However, it does have CA$2.11b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CA$5.30b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:L Debt to Equity History July 31st 2021

A Look At Loblaw Companies' Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Loblaw Companies had liabilities of CA$8.92b due within 12 months, and liabilities of CA$15.4b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had CA$2.11b in cash and CA$3.90b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$18.3b.

This deficit is considerable relative to its very significant market capitalization of CA$28.5b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Loblaw Companies' use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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.

While Loblaw Companies's low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.3 suggests only modest use of debt, the fact that EBIT only covered the interest expense by 4.0 times last year does give us pause. So we'd recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. We note that Loblaw Companies grew its EBIT by 25% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Loblaw Companies 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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Loblaw Companies actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

Loblaw Companies's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But truth be told we feel its interest cover does undermine this impression a bit. All these things considered, it appears that Loblaw Companies can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with Loblaw Companies .

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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About TSX:L

Loblaw Companies

Loblaw Companies Limited, a food and pharmacy company, engages in the grocery, pharmacy, health and beauty, apparel, general merchandise, financial services, and wireless mobile products and services businesses in Canada.

Solid track record with adequate balance sheet and pays a dividend.