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. We can see that Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership (TSE:QSP.UN) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership Carry?
As you can see below, Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership had US$12.8b of debt, at June 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have US$1.75b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$11.0b.
How Healthy Is Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership had liabilities of US$1.65b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$17.3b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$1.75b in cash and US$535.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$16.7b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit is considerable relative to its very significant market capitalization of US$21.8b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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).
Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership has a rather high debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.4 which suggests a meaningful debt load. But the good news is that it boasts fairly comforting interest cover of 3.6 times, suggesting it can responsibly service its obligations. The good news is that Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership improved its EBIT by 4.2% over the last twelve months, thus gradually reducing its debt levels relative to its earnings. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership recorded free cash flow worth 68% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership's struggle handle its debt, based on its EBITDA, had us second guessing its balance sheet strength, but the other data-points we considered were relatively redeeming. For example its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was refreshing. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership's debt poses some risks to the business. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example Restaurant Brands International Limited Partnership has 2 warning signs (and 1 which shouldn't be ignored) we think you should know about.
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.
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.
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