Warren Buffett famously said, ‘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. As with many other companies Cardinal Energy Ltd. (TSE:CJ) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
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. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Cardinal Energy Carry?
As you can see below, Cardinal Energy had CA$239.2m of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have CA$4.91m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CA$234.3m.
How Strong Is Cardinal Energy’s Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Cardinal Energy had liabilities of CA$64.8m falling due within a year, and liabilities of CA$362.5m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$4.91m as well as receivables valued at CA$41.0m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CA$381.4m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company’s market capitalization of CA$272.0m, we think shareholders really should watch Cardinal Energy’s debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). 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).
Cardinal Energy’s net debt is only 1.4 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 11.0 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. It was also good to see that despite losing money on the EBIT line last year, Cardinal Energy turned things around in the last 12 months, delivering and EBIT of CA$142m. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Cardinal Energy 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’s worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Looking at the most recent year, Cardinal Energy recorded free cash flow of 30% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we’d expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
We’d go so far as to say Cardinal Energy’s level of total liabilities was disappointing. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Cardinal Energy stock a bit risky. Some people like that sort of risk, but we’re mindful of the potential pitfalls, so we’d probably prefer it carry less debt. In light of our reservations about the company’s balance sheet, it seems sensible to check if insiders have been selling shares recently.
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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