Is Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA) A Risky Investment?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
October 27, 2020
NasdaqGS:WBA

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. As with many other companies Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. (NASDAQ:WBA) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. 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.

Check out our latest analysis for Walgreens Boots Alliance

How Much Debt Does Walgreens Boots Alliance Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Walgreens Boots Alliance had debt of US$15.8b at the end of August 2020, a reduction from US$16.8b over a year. On the flip side, it has US$516.0m in cash leading to net debt of about US$15.3b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:WBA Debt to Equity History October 27th 2020

A Look At Walgreens Boots Alliance's Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Walgreens Boots Alliance had liabilities of US$27.1b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$39.0b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$516.0m in cash and US$7.13b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$58.4b.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$32.2b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Walgreens Boots Alliance would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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).

Walgreens Boots Alliance's debt is 3.3 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 5.1 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Shareholders should be aware that Walgreens Boots Alliance's EBIT was down 41% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Walgreens Boots Alliance'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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Walgreens Boots Alliance actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

On the face of it, Walgreens Boots Alliance's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. We're quite clear that we consider Walgreens Boots Alliance to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. 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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 4 warning signs for Walgreens Boots Alliance you should be aware of.

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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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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