Canadian Natural Resources (TSE:CNQ) Has A Pretty Healthy Balance Sheet

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 22, 2022
TSX:CNQ
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.' 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, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (TSE:CNQ) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.

Check out our latest analysis for Canadian Natural Resources

How Much Debt Does Canadian Natural Resources Carry?

As you can see below, Canadian Natural Resources had CA$14.7b of debt at December 2021, down from CA$21.5b a year prior. However, it also had CA$1.05b in cash, and so its net debt is CA$13.6b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:CNQ Debt to Equity History April 22nd 2022

A Look At Canadian Natural Resources' Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Canadian Natural Resources had liabilities of CA$7.42b due within a year, and liabilities of CA$32.3b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of CA$1.05b and CA$3.11b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$35.6b.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Canadian Natural Resources has a huge market capitalization of CA$96.6b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Canadian Natural Resources's net debt is only 0.90 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 13.3 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Although Canadian Natural Resources made a loss at the EBIT level, last year, it was also good to see that it generated CA$9.5b in EBIT over the last twelve months. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Canadian Natural Resources's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Over the last year, Canadian Natural Resources actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

The good news is that Canadian Natural Resources's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Canadian Natural Resources takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 2 warning signs with Canadian Natural Resources , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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