Altius Minerals (TSE:ALS) Seems To Use Debt Rather Sparingly

October 01, 2022
  •  Updated
November 14, 2022
TSX:ALS
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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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. We can see that Altius Minerals Corporation (TSE:ALS) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Altius Minerals

What Is Altius Minerals's Debt?

As you can see below, Altius Minerals had CA$122.1m of debt, at June 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have CA$107.4m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CA$14.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:ALS Debt to Equity History October 1st 2022

How Strong Is Altius Minerals' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Altius Minerals had liabilities of CA$15.9m due within 12 months, and liabilities of CA$149.4m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of CA$107.4m and CA$26.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$31.0m.

Of course, Altius Minerals has a market capitalization of CA$923.1m, so these liabilities are probably manageable. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.

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). 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).

With net debt sitting at just 0.19 times EBITDA, Altius Minerals is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And it boasts interest cover of 8.1 times, which is more than adequate. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Altius Minerals has boosted its EBIT by 51%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Altius Minerals 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Altius Minerals actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

Altius Minerals's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. We think Altius Minerals is no more beholden to its lenders, than the birds are to birdwatchers. For investing nerds like us its balance sheet is almost charming. 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. To that end, you should learn about the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Altius Minerals (including 1 which is significant) .

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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Find out whether Altius Minerals 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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