Stock Analysis

Here's Why Mader Group (ASX:MAD) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

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ASX:MAD
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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 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 Mader Group Limited (ASX:MAD) does have debt on its balance sheet. 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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

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What Is Mader Group's Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Mader Group had AU$24.9m in debt in June 2020; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has AU$6.46m in cash leading to net debt of about AU$18.5m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:MAD Debt to Equity History December 23rd 2020

How Strong Is Mader Group's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Mader Group had liabilities of AU$37.7m falling due within a year, and liabilities of AU$14.9m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of AU$6.46m as well as receivables valued at AU$55.5m due within 12 months. So it actually has AU$9.37m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This surplus suggests that Mader Group has a conservative balance sheet, and could probably eliminate its debt without much difficulty.

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.

Mader Group has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.57. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 17.2 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Another good sign is that Mader Group has been able to increase its EBIT by 21% in twelve months, making it easier to pay down debt. 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 Mader Group's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Considering the last three years, Mader Group actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is far more risky for companies with unreliable free cash flow, so shareholders should be hoping that the past expenditure will produce free cash flow in the future.

Our View

Mader Group's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But we must concede we find its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow has the opposite effect. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Mader Group takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. 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. Take risks, for example - Mader Group has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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