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 Intrepid Potash, Inc. (NYSE:IPI) makes use of debt. 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. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does Intrepid Potash Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 Intrepid Potash had US$69.7m of debt, an increase on US$59.5m, over one year. However, it also had US$15.5m in cash, and so its net debt is US$54.2m.
How Strong Is Intrepid Potash's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Intrepid Potash had liabilities of US$78.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$57.9m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$15.5m in cash and US$26.3m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$94.8m.
Intrepid Potash has a market capitalization of US$404.3m, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate 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.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Intrepid Potash has net debt of just 0.89 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 7.7 times the interest expense over the last year. Even more impressive was the fact that Intrepid Potash grew its EBIT by 286% over twelve months. If maintained that growth will make the debt even more manageable in the years ahead. 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 Intrepid Potash's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Looking at the most recent two years, Intrepid Potash 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.
Happily, Intrepid Potash's impressive EBIT growth rate implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But truth be told we feel its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow does undermine this impression a bit. All these things considered, it appears that Intrepid Potash can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Intrepid Potash insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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