Stock Analysis

Transcontinental (TSE:TCL.A) Has A Pretty Healthy Balance Sheet

TSX:TCL.A
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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. As with many other companies Transcontinental Inc. (TSE:TCL.A) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Transcontinental

How Much Debt Does Transcontinental Carry?

As you can see below, Transcontinental had CA$916.6m of debt at January 2021, down from CA$1.39b a year prior. On the flip side, it has CA$182.0m in cash leading to net debt of about CA$734.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:TCL.A Debt to Equity History April 13th 2021

How Strong Is Transcontinental's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Transcontinental had liabilities of CA$727.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of CA$964.2m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$182.0m as well as receivables valued at CA$427.2m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CA$1.08b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit isn't so bad because Transcontinental is worth CA$2.06b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). 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).

Transcontinental has net debt worth 1.6 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 6.3 times the interest expense. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. On the other hand, Transcontinental saw its EBIT drop by 7.1% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue to decline at that rate the company may have increasing difficulty managing its debt load. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Transcontinental'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.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Transcontinental recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 91% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Transcontinental was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its EBIT growth rate makes us a little nervous about its debt. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Transcontinental's use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Transcontinental you should be aware of.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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