Is Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR) A Risky Investment?

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. Importantly, Marriott International, Inc. (NASDAQ:MAR) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Marriott International

What Is Marriott International’s Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2019, Marriott International had US$10.6b of debt, up from US$9.33b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$276.0m in cash, and so its net debt is US$10.3b.

NasdaqGS:MAR Historical Debt, February 3rd 2020
NasdaqGS:MAR Historical Debt, February 3rd 2020

How Strong Is Marriott International’s Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Marriott International had liabilities of US$5.74b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$18.2b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$276.0m and US$2.39b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$21.3b.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Marriott International has a huge market capitalization of US$45.8b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it’s clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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). 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).

Marriott International has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.0 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 6.1 times. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we’d stop short of calling them problematic. The bad news is that Marriott International saw its EBIT decline by 10% over the last year. If that sort of decline is not arrested, then the managing its debt will be harder than selling broccoli flavoured ice-cream for a premium. 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 Marriott International 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Marriott International produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 69% of its EBIT, about what we’d expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

Neither Marriott International’s ability to grow its EBIT nor its net debt to EBITDA gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Marriott International is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example, we’ve discovered 1 warning sign for Marriott International 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.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.