Stock Analysis

Cargojet (TSE:CJT) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

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TSX:CJT
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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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Cargojet Inc. (TSE:CJT) makes use of 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. 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.

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What Is Cargojet's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Cargojet had CA$306.6m of debt in September 2021, down from CA$366.4m, one year before. However, it also had CA$132.8m in cash, and so its net debt is CA$173.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:CJT Debt to Equity History December 8th 2021

A Look At Cargojet's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Cargojet had liabilities of CA$128.1m due within 12 months and liabilities of CA$776.8m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$132.8m as well as receivables valued at CA$62.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$709.6m.

Cargojet has a market capitalization of CA$2.93b, so it could very likely raise cash to 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.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its 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).

Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 0.80 and interest cover of 4.4 times, it seems to us that Cargojet is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. So we'd recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. If Cargojet can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 14% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Cargojet 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, Cargojet created free cash flow amounting to 15% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.

Our View

Both Cargojet's ability to handle its debt, based on its EBITDA, and its EBIT growth rate gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. On the other hand, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Cargojet's use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Cargojet you should know about.

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.

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