Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. We can see that EnLink Midstream, LLC (NYSE:ENLC) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is EnLink Midstream's Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that EnLink Midstream had debt of US$4.39b at the end of September 2021, a reduction from US$4.67b over a year. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.
How Strong Is EnLink Midstream's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that EnLink Midstream had liabilities of US$1.11b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$4.46b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$36.1m as well as receivables valued at US$725.1m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$4.81b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's US$4.38b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
While EnLink Midstream's debt to EBITDA ratio (4.5) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.5, suggesting high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that EnLink Midstream saw its EBIT drop by 11% over the last twelve months. If that's the way things keep going handling the debt load will be like delivering hot coffees on a pogo stick. 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 EnLink Midstream'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, EnLink Midstream recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 99% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Mulling over EnLink Midstream's attempt at covering its interest expense with its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Overall, we think it's fair to say that EnLink Midstream has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. 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 EnLink Midstream is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , you should know about...
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.
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.