Does Equitrans Midstream (NYSE:ETRN) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 30, 2021
NYSE:ETRN
Source: Shutterstock

Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 note that Equitrans Midstream Corporation (NYSE:ETRN) does have debt on its balance sheet. 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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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.

Check out our latest analysis for Equitrans Midstream

What Is Equitrans Midstream's Debt?

As you can see below, Equitrans Midstream had US$7.08b of debt, at September 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it also had US$194.2m in cash, and so its net debt is US$6.88b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ETRN Debt to Equity History December 1st 2021

A Look At Equitrans Midstream's Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Equitrans Midstream had liabilities of US$318.2m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$8.21b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$194.2m and US$255.6m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$8.08b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$4.16b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, Equitrans Midstream would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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.

Equitrans Midstream shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (6.0), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 2.2 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that Equitrans Midstream saw its EBIT drop by 17% over the last twelve months. If things keep going like that, handling the debt will about as easy as bundling an angry house cat into its travel box. 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 Equitrans Midstream can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Equitrans Midstream recorded free cash flow of 38% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

On the face of it, Equitrans Midstream's net debt to EBITDA 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. Having said that, its ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow isn't such a worry. Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, it looks like Equitrans Midstream has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn't float our boat. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example Equitrans Midstream has 2 warning signs (and 1 which is significant) we think you should know about.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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