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We Think Equinox Gold (CVE:EQX) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

Simply Wall St

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. We note that Equinox Gold Corp. (CVE:EQX) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Equinox Gold

What Is Equinox Gold's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2019, Equinox Gold had US$262.7m of debt, up from US$71.7m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$46.7m, its net debt is less, at about US$216.0m.

TSXV:EQX Historical Debt, November 13th 2019

A Look At Equinox Gold's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Equinox Gold had liabilities of US$69.5m due within a year, and liabilities of US$312.5m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$46.7m and US$30.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$304.9m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Equinox Gold has a market capitalization of US$696.8m, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

While Equinox Gold's debt to EBITDA ratio (4.5) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.1, suggesting high leverage. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. One redeeming factor for Equinox Gold is that it turned last year's EBIT loss into a gain of US$12m, over the last twelve months. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Equinox Gold'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. During the last year, Equinox Gold burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

To be frank both Equinox Gold's interest cover and its track record of converting EBIT to free cash flow make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least its EBIT growth rate is not so bad. We're quite clear that we consider Equinox Gold to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Equinox Gold insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.

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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.