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Is Wheaton Precious Metals (TSE:WPM) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

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 seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. As with many other companies Wheaton Precious Metals Corp. ( TSE:WPM ) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Wheaton Precious Metals

What Is Wheaton Precious Metals's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, Wheaton Precious Metals had US$1.10b of debt, up from US$956.5m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$87.2m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$1.01b.

TSX:WPM Historical Debt, August 23rd 2019

A Look At Wheaton Precious Metals's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Wheaton Precious Metals had liabilities of US$25.0m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.10b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$87.2m in cash and US$1.45m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$1.04b.

Of course, Wheaton Precious Metals has a titanic market capitalization of US$12.0b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). 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).

While Wheaton Precious Metals has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 2.1, its interest cover seems weak, at 1.0. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. These charges may be non-cash, so they could be excluded when it comes to paying down debt. But the accounting charges are there for a reason -- some assets are seen to be losing value. Either way there's no doubt the stock is using meaningful leverage. Shareholders should be aware that Wheaton Precious Metals's EBIT was down 38% 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. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Wheaton Precious Metals 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Wheaton Precious Metals saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

To be frank both Wheaton Precious Metals's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its level of total liabilities is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Wheaton Precious Metals's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. In light of our reservations about the company's balance sheet, it seems sensible to check if insiders have been selling shares recently .

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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.