Stock Analysis

Is Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) Using Too Much Debt?

NYSE:STZ
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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.' 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 Constellation Brands, Inc. (NYSE:STZ) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Constellation Brands

What Is Constellation Brands's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of August 2023, Constellation Brands had US$11.7b of debt, up from US$10.9b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:STZ Debt to Equity History October 23rd 2023

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$2.86b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$12.3b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$83.3m in cash and US$933.2m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$14.2b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit isn't so bad because Constellation Brands is worth a massive US$42.3b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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.

Constellation Brands has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.4 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 6.8 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Unfortunately, Constellation Brands saw its EBIT slide 5.3% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue on that decline then managing that debt will be difficult like delivering hot soup on a unicycle. 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 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Constellation Brands produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 57% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Even if we have reservations about how easily Constellation Brands is capable of managing its debt, based on its EBITDA,, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and interest cover make us think feel relatively unconcerned. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Constellation Brands is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with Constellation Brands .

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Constellation Brands is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.