Is Western Forest Products (TSE:WEF) Using Too Much Debt?

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 note that Western Forest Products Inc. (TSE:WEF) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.

View our latest analysis for Western Forest Products

How Much Debt Does Western Forest Products Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 Western Forest Products had CA$119.4m of debt, an increase on none, over one year. However, it does have CA$5.30m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CA$114.1m.

TSX:WEF Historical Debt, September 7th 2019

How Healthy Is Western Forest Products's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Western Forest Products had liabilities of CA$136.4m due within 12 months, and liabilities of CA$268.9m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had CA$5.30m in cash and CA$98.9m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CA$301.1m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of CA$472.8m, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Western Forest Products's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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.

Western Forest Products has net debt worth 1.6 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 6.9 times the interest expense. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. Shareholders should be aware that Western Forest Products's EBIT was down 75% last year. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Western Forest Products can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. In the last three years, Western Forest Products's free cash flow amounted to 46% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

Mulling over Western Forest Products's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least it's pretty decent at covering its interest expense with its EBIT; that's encouraging. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Western Forest Products stock a bit risky. Some people like that sort of risk, but we're mindful of the potential pitfalls, so we'd probably prefer it carry less debt. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Western Forest Products insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.

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.

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.