Bristow Group (NYSE:VTOL) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
September 19, 2021
NYSE:VTOL
Source: Shutterstock

David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. As with many other companies Bristow Group Inc. (NYSE:VTOL) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Bristow Group

What Is Bristow Group's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Bristow Group had US$541.6m of debt in June 2021, down from US$645.8m, one year before. However, it also had US$244.7m in cash, and so its net debt is US$296.9m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:VTOL Debt to Equity History September 20th 2021

How Healthy Is Bristow Group's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Bristow Group had liabilities of US$293.9m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$757.6m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$244.7m and US$198.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$608.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$892.1m. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

While Bristow Group has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 2.1, its interest cover seems weak, at 0.97. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. These charges may be non-cash, so they could be excluded when it comes to paying down debt. But the accounting charges are there for a reason -- some assets are seen to be losing value. Either way there's no doubt the stock is using meaningful leverage. It is well worth noting that Bristow Group's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 80% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its 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 Bristow Group'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 clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last two years, Bristow Group saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

On the face of it, Bristow Group's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that Bristow Group's debt is making it a bit risky. Some people like that sort of risk, but we're mindful of the potential pitfalls, so we'd probably prefer it carry less debt. 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. For example - Bristow Group has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

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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