Is Mullen Group (TSE:MTL) Using Too Much Debt?

Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, ‘The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about… and every practical investor I know worries about. 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. We note that Mullen Group Ltd. (TSE:MTL) 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. 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 Mullen Group

How Much Debt Does Mullen Group Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2019, Mullen Group had CA$581.4m of debt, up from CA$490 a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have CA$77.6m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CA$503.8m.

TSX:MTL Historical Debt, January 23rd 2020
TSX:MTL Historical Debt, January 23rd 2020

How Healthy Is Mullen Group’s Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Mullen Group had liabilities of CA$125.1m due within a year, and liabilities of CA$734.6m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of CA$77.6m and CA$236.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$545.2m.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Mullen Group has a market capitalization of CA$986.4m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Mullen Group’s debt is 2.6 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.7 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn’t want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. One way Mullen Group could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 12%, as it did over the last year. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Mullen Group’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you’re focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Mullen Group generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 89% of its EBIT, more than we’d expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

On our analysis Mullen Group’s conversion of EBIT to free cash flow should signal that it won’t have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren’t so heartening. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think Mullen Group is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we’ve spotted with Mullen Group .

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.

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