Cameco (TSE:CCO) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 16, 2021
TSX:CCO
Source: Shutterstock

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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We can see that Cameco Corporation (TSE:CCO) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for Cameco

How Much Debt Does Cameco Carry?

As you can see below, Cameco had CA$1.01b of debt, at September 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have CA$1.36b in cash offsetting this, leading to net cash of CA$347.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:CCO Debt to Equity History November 17th 2021

A Look At Cameco's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Cameco had liabilities of CA$325.2m due within a year, and liabilities of CA$2.22b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had CA$1.36b in cash and CA$152.5m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CA$1.04b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Of course, Cameco has a titanic market capitalization of CA$13.2b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Cameco boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

Shareholders should be aware that Cameco's EBIT was down 67% last year. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Cameco 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. While Cameco has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. Happily for any shareholders, Cameco actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Summing up

While it is always sensible to look at a company's total liabilities, it is very reassuring that Cameco has CA$347.7m in net cash. And it impressed us with free cash flow of CA$567m, being 154% of its EBIT. So we are not troubled with Cameco's debt use. 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. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for Cameco that you should be aware of before investing here.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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