Is NHPC (NSE:NHPC) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 21, 2022
NSEI:NHPC
Source: Shutterstock

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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 NHPC Limited (NSE:NHPC) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for NHPC

What Is NHPC's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2021 NHPC had debt of ₹249.1b, up from ₹236.7b in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of ₹26.8b, its net debt is less, at about ₹222.2b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NSEI:NHPC Debt to Equity History January 21st 2022

How Healthy Is NHPC's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that NHPC had liabilities of ₹81.9b falling due within a year, and liabilities of ₹297.6b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of ₹26.8b as well as receivables valued at ₹41.2b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total ₹311.6b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's ₹308.4b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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).

NHPC has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.2, which signals significant debt, but is still pretty reasonable for most types of business. But its EBIT was about 15.0 times its interest expense, implying the company isn't really paying a high cost to maintain that level of debt. Even were the low cost to prove unsustainable, that is a good sign. NHPC grew its EBIT by 4.5% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off 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 NHPC'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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, NHPC recorded free cash flow of 47% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

Neither NHPC's ability to handle its total liabilities nor its net debt to EBITDA gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But its interest cover tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think NHPC's debt poses some risks to the business. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with NHPC .

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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