Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that ‘Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.’ So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Mainstreet Equity Corp. (TSE:MEQ) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can’t fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Mainstreet Equity’s Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2020, Mainstreet Equity had CA$1.14b of debt, up from CA$1.08b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. And it doesn’t have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.
A Look At Mainstreet Equity’s Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Mainstreet Equity had liabilities of CA$114.0m due within a year, and liabilities of CA$1.20b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had CA$20.8m in cash and CA$2.00m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CA$1.3b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CA$737.3m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Mainstreet Equity would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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.
Mainstreet Equity shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (14.0), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 2.2 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. On a slightly more positive note, Mainstreet Equity grew its EBIT at 13% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage debt. 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 Mainstreet Equity can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.
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, Mainstreet Equity’s free cash flow amounted to 49% of its EBIT, less than we’d expect. That’s not great, when it comes to paying down debt.
To be frank both Mainstreet Equity’s net debt to EBITDA and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Mainstreet Equity’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. There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. Consider for instance, the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We’ve identified 4 warning signs with Mainstreet Equity (at least 2 which can’t be ignored) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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. 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.
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