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.’ It’s only natural to consider a company’s balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We can see that ATS Corporation (TSE:ATS) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
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. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
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What Is ATS’s Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that ATS had debt of CA$894.7m at the end of July 2023, a reduction from CA$1.09b over a year. However, because it has a cash reserve of CA$123.5m, its net debt is less, at about CA$771.2m.
How Healthy Is ATS’ Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that ATS had liabilities of CA$947.8m falling due within a year, and liabilities of CA$1.08b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of CA$123.5m and CA$1.04b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling CA$868.9m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given ATS has a market capitalization of CA$5.80b, it’s hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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.
ATS has net debt worth 2.2 times EBITDA, which isn’t too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 4.0 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it’s worth noting that the cost of the company’s debt is having a real impact. One way ATS could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 10%, as it did over the last year. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine ATS’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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, ATS’s free cash flow amounted to 29% of its EBIT, less than we’d expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
ATS’s EBIT growth rate was a real positive on this analysis, as was its level of total liabilities. On the other hand, its interest cover makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about ATS’s use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we’d suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example, we’ve discovered 2 warning signs for ATS (1 is a bit concerning!) that you should be aware of before investing here.
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.
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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.