Stock Analysis

Here's Why MEG Energy (TSE:MEG) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

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TSX:MEG
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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. We can see that MEG Energy Corp. (TSE:MEG) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Our analysis indicates that MEG is potentially undervalued!

What Is MEG Energy's Net Debt?

As you can see below, MEG Energy had CA$2.03b of debt at June 2022, down from CA$2.82b a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of CA$244.0m, its net debt is less, at about CA$1.78b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:MEG Debt to Equity History October 26th 2022

How Healthy Is MEG Energy's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that MEG Energy had liabilities of CA$714.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of CA$2.40b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had CA$244.0m in cash and CA$536.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$2.33b.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since MEG Energy has a market capitalization of CA$5.80b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 0.96 and interest cover of 6.7 times, it seems to us that MEG Energy is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. Better yet, MEG Energy grew its EBIT by 5,079% last year, which is an impressive improvement. If maintained that growth will make the debt even more manageable in the years ahead. 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 MEG Energy 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. Over the last three years, MEG Energy recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 99% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

MEG Energy's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Looking at the bigger picture, we think MEG Energy's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. 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. We've identified 2 warning signs with MEG Energy (at least 1 which makes us a bit uncomfortable) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether MEG Energy is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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