Is Ero Copper (TSE:ERO) Using Too Much Debt?

·4 min read

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.' 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. Importantly, Ero Copper Corp. (TSE:ERO) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Ero Copper

How Much Debt Does Ero Copper Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of March 2022, Ero Copper had US$411.1m of debt, up from US$159.1m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. But it also has US$465.5m in cash to offset that, meaning it has US$54.4m net cash.

debt-equity-history-analysis
debt-equity-history-analysis

How Strong Is Ero Copper's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Ero Copper had liabilities of US$102.7m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$528.1m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$465.5m in cash and US$40.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$125.3m.

Since publicly traded Ero Copper shares are worth a total of US$1.11b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Ero Copper boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

And we also note warmly that Ero Copper grew its EBIT by 17% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. 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 Ero Copper 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. Ero Copper may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Looking at the most recent three years, Ero Copper recorded free cash flow of 43% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Summing up

Although Ero Copper's balance sheet isn't particularly strong, due to the total liabilities, it is clearly positive to see that it has net cash of US$54.4m. And we liked the look of last year's 17% year-on-year EBIT growth. So we are not troubled with Ero Copper's debt use. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for Ero Copper (1 is a bit concerning) you should be aware of.

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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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.