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Bird Construction (TSE:BDT) Seems To Use Debt Rather Sparingly

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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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. As with many other companies Bird Construction Inc. (TSE:BDT) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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 Bird Construction

What Is Bird Construction's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of March 2022 Bird Construction had CA$76.3m of debt, an increase on CA$65.3m, over one year. However, its balance sheet shows it holds CA$154.7m in cash, so it actually has CA$78.3m net cash.

debt-equity-history-analysis
debt-equity-history-analysis

How Strong Is Bird Construction's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Bird Construction had liabilities of CA$669.6m due within 12 months and liabilities of CA$162.4m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$154.7m as well as receivables valued at CA$645.8m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CA$31.6m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Of course, Bird Construction has a market capitalization of CA$449.4m, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. While it does have liabilities worth noting, Bird Construction also has more cash than debt, so we're pretty confident it can manage its debt safely.

In addition to that, we're happy to report that Bird Construction has boosted its EBIT by 38%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. 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 Bird Construction'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. While Bird Construction has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. During the last three years, Bird Construction produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 65% 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.

Summing up

While it is always sensible to look at a company's total liabilities, it is very reassuring that Bird Construction has CA$78.3m in net cash. And it impressed us with its EBIT growth of 38% over the last year. So we don't think Bird Construction's use of debt is risky. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for Bird Construction 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.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.