Stock Analysis

Here's Why Infratil (NZSE:IFT) Has A Meaningful Debt Burden

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NZSE:IFT
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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 can see that Infratil Limited (NZSE:IFT) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Infratil

What Is Infratil's Debt?

As you can see below, Infratil had NZ$3.26b of debt, at September 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of NZ$522.5m, its net debt is less, at about NZ$2.74b.

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NZSE:IFT Debt to Equity History December 8th 2022

How Strong Is Infratil's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Infratil had liabilities of NZ$855.6m due within 12 months, and liabilities of NZ$3.57b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of NZ$522.5m and NZ$133.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by NZ$3.77b.

Infratil has a market capitalization of NZ$6.35b, 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.

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). 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).

Weak interest cover of 1.2 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 9.7 hit our confidence in Infratil like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. However, the silver lining was that Infratil achieved a positive EBIT of NZ$186m in the last twelve months, an improvement on the prior year's loss. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Infratil can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. During the last year, Infratil 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.

Our View

To be frank both Infratil's interest cover and its track record of converting EBIT to free cash flow make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. Having said that, its ability to grow its EBIT isn't such a worry. It's also worth noting that Infratil is in the Electric Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Overall, it seems to us that Infratil's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. 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. Be aware that Infratil is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , 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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