Stock Analysis

Is Enerplus (TSE:ERF) A Risky Investment?

TSX:ERF
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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Enerplus Corporation (TSE:ERF) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Enerplus

What Is Enerplus's Debt?

As you can see below, Enerplus had US$203.2m of debt at March 2023, down from US$595.0m a year prior. On the flip side, it has US$77.2m in cash leading to net debt of about US$126.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:ERF Debt to Equity History June 9th 2023

How Strong Is Enerplus' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Enerplus had liabilities of US$483.1m due within a year, and liabilities of US$320.2m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$77.2m as well as receivables valued at US$247.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$478.6m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Of course, Enerplus has a market capitalization of US$3.16b, 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.

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

With debt at a measly 0.083 times EBITDA and EBIT covering interest a whopping 52.4 times, it's clear that Enerplus is not a desperate borrower. Indeed relative to its earnings its debt load seems light as a feather. Better yet, Enerplus grew its EBIT by 204% last year, which is an impressive improvement. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Enerplus's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent two years, Enerplus recorded free cash flow worth 76% 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.

Our View

Happily, Enerplus's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Overall, we don't think Enerplus is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So we're not worried about the use of a little leverage on the balance sheet. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Enerplus .

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Enerplus is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.