These 4 Measures Indicate That Vector (NZSE:VCT) Is Using Debt Extensively

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 04, 2021
NZSE:VCT
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 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 Vector Limited (NZSE:VCT) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.

Check out our latest analysis for Vector

How Much Debt Does Vector Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Vector had NZ$3.07b in debt in June 2021; about the same as the year before. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NZSE:VCT Debt to Equity History November 5th 2021

A Look At Vector's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Vector had liabilities of NZ$551.4m falling due within a year, and liabilities of NZ$3.63b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of NZ$17.4m and NZ$208.7m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total NZ$3.96b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of NZ$4.01b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Vector's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

With a net debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.2, it's fair to say Vector does have a significant amount of debt. However, its interest coverage of 3.2 is reasonably strong, which is a good sign. However, one redeeming factor is that Vector grew its EBIT at 17% over the last 12 months, boosting its ability to handle its debt. 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 Vector 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Vector recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.

Our View

On the face of it, Vector's net debt to EBITDA left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. It's also worth noting that Vector is in the Integrated Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Vector has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Be aware that Vector is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 2 of those make us uncomfortable...

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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