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.' 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. We note that Constellation Brands, Inc. (NYSE:STZ) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Constellation Brands Carry?
As you can see below, Constellation Brands had US$10.4b of debt, at February 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.
How Healthy Is Constellation Brands' Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Constellation Brands had liabilities of US$2.70b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$11.1b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$199.4m in cash and US$1.12b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$12.5b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Constellation Brands has a very large market capitalization of US$46.6b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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.
With net debt to EBITDA of 3.0 Constellation Brands has a fairly noticeable amount of debt. But the high interest coverage of 8.4 suggests it can easily service that debt. Constellation Brands grew its EBIT by 2.3% in the last year. Whilst that hardly knocks our socks off it is a positive when it comes to debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Constellation Brands 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, 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, Constellation Brands recorded free cash flow worth 63% 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.
Constellation Brands's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was a real positive on this analysis, as was its interest cover. Having said that, its net debt to EBITDA somewhat sensitizes us to potential future risks to the balance sheet. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Constellation Brands is managing its debt quite well. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Constellation Brands 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.