Stock Analysis

Is Xcel Energy (NASDAQ:XEL) Using Too Much Debt?

Published
NasdaqGS:XEL
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 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. As with many other companies Xcel Energy Inc. (NASDAQ:XEL) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Xcel Energy

How Much Debt Does Xcel Energy Carry?

As you can see below, Xcel Energy had US$24.1b of debt, at September 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:XEL Debt to Equity History December 5th 2022

How Strong Is Xcel Energy's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Xcel Energy had liabilities of US$4.90b due within a year, and liabilities of US$38.7b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$190.0m in cash and US$1.99b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$41.4b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's massive market capitalization of US$37.8b, we think shareholders really should watch Xcel Energy's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive 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.

Xcel Energy shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (5.0), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 2.5 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. Fortunately, Xcel Energy grew its EBIT by 6.1% in the last year, slowly shrinking its debt relative to earnings. 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 Xcel Energy 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. Over the last three years, Xcel Energy 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

To be frank both Xcel Energy's net debt to EBITDA and its track record of converting EBIT to free cash flow make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. It's also worth noting that Xcel Energy is in the Electric Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Overall, it seems to us that Xcel Energy's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example Xcel Energy has 3 warning signs (and 1 which makes us a bit uncomfortable) we think you should know about.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

What are the risks and opportunities for Xcel Energy?

Xcel Energy Inc., through its subsidiaries, generates, purchases, transmits, distributes, and sells electricity.

View Full Analysis

Rewards

  • Earnings are forecast to grow 6.35% per year

  • Earnings have grown 7.9% per year over the past 5 years

Risks

  • Interest payments are not well covered by earnings

  • Significant insider selling over the past 3 months

View all Risks and Rewards

Share Price

Market Cap

1Y Return

View Company Report