These 4 Measures Indicate That Altius Minerals (TSE:ALS) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

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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. We note that Altius Minerals Corporation (TSE:ALS) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. Ultimately, if the company can’t fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Altius Minerals

How Much Debt Does Altius Minerals Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of March 2019 Altius Minerals had CA$134.3m of debt, an increase on CA$65.2m, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of CA$21.3m, its net debt is less, at about CA$113.0m.

TSX:ALS Historical Debt, July 13th 2019
TSX:ALS Historical Debt, July 13th 2019

How Healthy Is Altius Minerals’s Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Altius Minerals had liabilities of CA$27.4m due within a year, and liabilities of CA$171.5m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had CA$21.3m in cash and CA$16.3m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CA$161.2m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Altius Minerals has a market capitalization of CA$517.0m, so it could very likely ameliorate its balance sheet if the need arose. But it’s clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution. Because it carries more debt than cash, we think it’s worth watching Altius Minerals’s balance sheet over time.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Altius Minerals’s debt is only 2.87 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 2.66 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we’d stop short of calling them problematic. Looking on the bright side, Altius Minerals boosted its EBIT by a silky 45% in the last year. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing debt. 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 Altius Minerals’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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last two years, Altius Minerals produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 79% of its EBIT, about what we’d expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

The good news is that Altius Minerals’s demonstrated ability to grow its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But we must concede we find its interest cover has the opposite effect. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Altius Minerals is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. Of course, we wouldn’t say no to the extra confidence that we’d gain if we knew that Altius Minerals insiders have been buying shares: if you’re on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.