Northland Power (TSE:NPI) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

By
Simply Wall St
Published
August 18, 2021
TSX:NPI
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We note that Northland Power Inc. (TSE:NPI) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Northland Power

What Is Northland Power's Debt?

As you can see below, Northland Power had CA$7.03b of debt at June 2021, down from CA$8.22b a year prior. However, it does have CA$863.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CA$6.16b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:NPI Debt to Equity History August 19th 2021

How Healthy Is Northland Power's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Northland Power had liabilities of CA$1.44b due within a year, and liabilities of CA$6.92b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$863.7m as well as receivables valued at CA$304.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CA$7.20b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of CA$9.28b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Northland Power has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.7 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 2.7 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Another concern for investors might be that Northland Power's EBIT fell 18% in the last year. If that's the way things keep going handling the debt load will be like delivering hot coffees on a pogo stick. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Northland Power 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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Northland Power actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

On the face of it, Northland Power's net debt to EBITDA left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Northland Power stock a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 4 warning signs with Northland Power (at least 1 which is concerning) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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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