Stock Analysis

Is Enerplus (TSE:ERF) Using Too Much Debt?

TSX:ERF
Source: Shutterstock

David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' 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 Enerplus Corporation (TSE:ERF) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for Enerplus

How Much Debt Does Enerplus Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Enerplus had US$571.4m of debt in June 2022, down from US$975.1m, one year before. However, it also had US$25.4m in cash, and so its net debt is US$546.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:ERF Debt to Equity History November 4th 2022

How Healthy Is Enerplus' Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Enerplus had liabilities of US$735.7m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$678.8m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$25.4m and US$387.8m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$1.00b.

Enerplus has a market capitalization of US$3.96b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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.

Enerplus has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.51. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 29.3 times the size. 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, Enerplus turned things around in the last 12 months, delivering and EBIT of US$766m. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Enerplus 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 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. Happily for any shareholders, Enerplus actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last year. 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 Enerplus's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Enerplus is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 1 warning sign with Enerplus , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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.

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.

View the Free Analysis

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.