Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, ‘The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.’ When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Melcor Developments Ltd. (TSE:MRD) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of ‘creative destruction’ where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth 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 Melcor Developments’s Net Debt?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2020 Melcor Developments had debt of CA$748.5m, up from CA$700.9m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of CA$29.2m, its net debt is less, at about CA$719.4m.
How Healthy Is Melcor Developments’s Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Melcor Developments had liabilities of CA$126.8m due within a year, and liabilities of CA$773.4m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of CA$29.2m and CA$69.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling CA$802.0m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CA$217.2m 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, Melcor Developments 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Melcor Developments has a rather high debt to EBITDA ratio of 9.8 which suggests a meaningful debt load. But the good news is that it boasts fairly comforting interest cover of 3.4 times, suggesting it can responsibly service its obligations. Worse, Melcor Developments’s EBIT was down 28% over the last year. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. 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 Melcor Developments 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. In the last three years, Melcor Developments’s free cash flow amounted to 28% of its EBIT, less than we’d expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
On the face of it, Melcor Developments’s EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. And furthermore, its interest cover also fails to instill confidence. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Melcor Developments has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn’t float our boat. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. Case in point: We’ve spotted 5 warning signs for Melcor Developments you should be aware of, and 2 of them are concerning.
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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