Stock Analysis

Martinrea International (TSE:MRE) Seems To Be Using A Lot Of Debt

TSX:MRE
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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.' 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. We note that Martinrea International Inc. (TSE:MRE) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Martinrea International

How Much Debt Does Martinrea International Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of March 2022, Martinrea International had CA$1.02b of debt, up from CA$873.3m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of CA$96.3m, its net debt is less, at about CA$922.1m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:MRE Debt to Equity History June 10th 2022

A Look At Martinrea International's Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Martinrea International had liabilities of CA$1.30b due within 12 months, and liabilities of CA$1.26b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of CA$96.3m and CA$822.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$1.65b.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CA$742.6m 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. After all, Martinrea International would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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). 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).

While we wouldn't worry about Martinrea International's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.7, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.5 times is a sign of high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. Even worse, Martinrea International saw its EBIT tank 36% over the last 12 months. 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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Martinrea International'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.

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. In the last three years, Martinrea International basically broke even on a free cash flow basis. While many companies do operate at break-even, we prefer see substantial free cash flow, especially if a it already has dead.

Our View

To be frank both Martinrea International's EBIT growth rate and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. And even its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow fails to inspire much confidence. Considering all the factors previously mentioned, we think that Martinrea International really is carrying too much debt. To our minds, that means the stock is rather high risk, and probably one to avoid; but to each their own (investing) style. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example, we've discovered 3 warning signs for Martinrea International (1 is potentially serious!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.