Is NZ Windfarms (NZSE:NWF) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
March 30, 2021
NZSE:NWF
Source: Shutterstock

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. As with many other companies NZ Windfarms Limited (NZSE:NWF) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for NZ Windfarms

What Is NZ Windfarms's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that NZ Windfarms had NZ$9.44m of debt in December 2020, down from NZ$10.3m, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of NZ$2.58m, its net debt is less, at about NZ$6.86m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NZSE:NWF Debt to Equity History March 30th 2021

A Look At NZ Windfarms' Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, NZ Windfarms had liabilities of NZ$4.90m due within 12 months, and liabilities of NZ$8.69m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of NZ$2.58m and NZ$1.39m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by NZ$9.62m.

Given NZ Windfarms has a market capitalization of NZ$57.6m, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

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

NZ Windfarms has net debt of just 0.91 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 9.6 times the interest expense over the last year. It is just as well that NZ Windfarms's load is not too heavy, because its EBIT was down 29% over the last year. Falling earnings (if the trend continues) could eventually make even modest debt quite risky. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since NZ Windfarms will need earnings to service that debt. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, NZ Windfarms generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 86% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

NZ Windfarms's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better. In particular, we are dazzled with its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Considering this range of data points, we think NZ Windfarms is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example - NZ Windfarms has 3 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

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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