Metals X (ASX:MLX) Has A Pretty Healthy Balance Sheet

By
Simply Wall St
Published
October 14, 2021
ASX:MLX
Source: Shutterstock

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.' 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 can see that Metals X Limited (ASX:MLX) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Metals X

What Is Metals X's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Metals X had AU$15.5m of debt in June 2021, down from AU$30.2m, one year before. However, it does have AU$13.5m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about AU$2.06m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:MLX Debt to Equity History October 14th 2021

How Strong Is Metals X's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Metals X had liabilities of AU$29.6m due within 12 months, and liabilities of AU$15.1m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of AU$13.5m as well as receivables valued at AU$23.8m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by AU$7.49m.

Of course, Metals X has a market capitalization of AU$362.9m, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. But either way, Metals X has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

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.

Metals X has very modest net debt levels, with net debt at just 0.07 times EBITDA. Happily, it actually managed to receive more interest than it paid, over the last year. So there's no doubt this company can take on debt as easily as enthusiastic spray-tanners take on an orange hue. Although Metals X made a loss at the EBIT level, last year, it was also good to see that it generated AU$15m in EBIT over the last twelve months. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Metals X can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Over the last year, Metals X saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

Based on what we've seen Metals X is not finding it easy, given its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. There's no doubt that its ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT is pretty flash. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Metals X is managing its debt quite well. 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. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Be aware that Metals X is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those is potentially serious...

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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