Is Equitrans Midstream (NYSE:ETRN) A Risky Investment?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
March 21, 2022
NYSE:ETRN
Source: Shutterstock

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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. Importantly, Equitrans Midstream Corporation (NYSE:ETRN) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Equitrans Midstream

What Is Equitrans Midstream's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Equitrans Midstream had debt of US$6.94b at the end of December 2021, a reduction from US$7.23b over a year. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ETRN Debt to Equity History March 21st 2022

How Strong Is Equitrans Midstream's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Equitrans Midstream had liabilities of US$367.6m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$7.86b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$134.7m in cash and US$271.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$7.82b.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$3.39b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Equitrans Midstream would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Equitrans Midstream shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (6.6), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.8 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Worse, Equitrans Midstream's EBIT was down 24% over the last year. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball's chance in hell of paying off that debt. 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 Equitrans Midstream'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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Equitrans Midstream recorded free cash flow worth 59% 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.

Our View

To be frank both Equitrans Midstream's EBIT growth rate and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, it looks like Equitrans Midstream has too much debt. While some investors love that sort of risky play, it's certainly not our cup of tea. 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. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for Equitrans Midstream (1 can't be ignored) you should be aware of.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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