The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. We can see that Restaurant Brands International Inc. (NYSE:QSR) 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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Restaurant Brands International Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Restaurant Brands International had US$12.8b in debt in June 2021; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has US$1.76b in cash leading to net debt of about US$11.0b.
How Strong Is Restaurant Brands International's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Restaurant Brands International had liabilities of US$1.65b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$17.3b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$1.76b in cash and US$535.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$16.7b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit isn't so bad because Restaurant Brands International is worth a massive US$28.7b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up 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 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Restaurant Brands International has a rather high debt to EBITDA ratio of 5.4 which suggests a meaningful debt load. But the good news is that it boasts fairly comforting interest cover of 3.6 times, suggesting it can responsibly service its obligations. The good news is that Restaurant Brands International improved its EBIT by 4.3% over the last twelve months, thus gradually reducing its debt levels relative to its earnings. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Restaurant Brands International's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Restaurant Brands International recorded free cash flow worth 67% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
Restaurant Brands International's net debt to EBITDA was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered cast it in a significantly better light. In particular, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was re-invigorating. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Restaurant Brands International is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Restaurant Brands International you should be aware of, and 1 of them shouldn't be ignored.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.