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 note that Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited (TSE:CTC.A) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Canadian Tire Corporation's Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2019 Canadian Tire Corporation had debt of CA$8.15b, up from CA$6.45b in one year. On the flip side, it has CA$841.9m in cash leading to net debt of about CA$7.31b.
How Strong Is Canadian Tire Corporation's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Canadian Tire Corporation had liabilities of CA$5.28b due within a year, and liabilities of CA$9.00b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of CA$841.9m and CA$669.8m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling CA$12.8b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's CA$11.0b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.
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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).
Canadian Tire Corporation has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.5 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 6.2 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. If Canadian Tire Corporation can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 17% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. 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 Canadian Tire Corporation'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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Looking at the most recent three years, Canadian Tire Corporation recorded free cash flow of 26% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
To be frank both Canadian Tire Corporation's net debt to EBITDA and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. 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 Canadian Tire Corporation's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Canadian Tire Corporation's earnings per share history for free.
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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