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 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 can see that Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. (TSE:INE) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Innergex Renewable Energy's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2019 Innergex Renewable Energy had debt of CA$4.50b, up from CA$4.0k in one year. On the flip side, it has CA$145.6m in cash leading to net debt of about CA$4.36b.
How Healthy Is Innergex Renewable Energy's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Innergex Renewable Energy had liabilities of CA$591.8m due within 12 months and liabilities of CA$4.81b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had CA$145.6m in cash and CA$100.4m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CA$5.16b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CA$2.54b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Innergex Renewable Energy would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
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.
Innergex Renewable Energy shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (9.9), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.1 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. On the other hand, Innergex Renewable Energy grew its EBIT by 28% in the last year. If it can maintain that kind of improvement, its debt load will begin to melt away like glaciers in a warming world. 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 Innergex Renewable Energy'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Innergex Renewable Energy burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
On the face of it, Innergex Renewable Energy's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Innergex Renewable Energy has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn't float our boat. 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. For instance, we've identified 5 warning signs for Innergex Renewable Energy (2 are potentially serious) you should be aware of.
If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
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