Stock Analysis

Does Transcontinental (TSE:TCL.A) Have A 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.' 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. As with many other companies Transcontinental Inc. (TSE:TCL.A) makes use of debt. 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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is Transcontinental's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of July 2021 Transcontinental had CA$1.16b of debt, an increase on CA$1.04b, over one year. However, it also had CA$392.0m in cash, and so its net debt is CA$768.1m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:TCL.A Debt to Equity History December 10th 2021

A Look At Transcontinental's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Transcontinental had liabilities of CA$813.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of CA$1.16b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$392.0m as well as receivables valued at CA$436.2m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CA$1.14b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of CA$1.74b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Transcontinental's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Transcontinental's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 1.8 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 6.5 times last year. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. The bad news is that Transcontinental saw its EBIT decline by 16% over the last year. If earnings continue to decline at that rate then handling the debt will be more difficult than taking three children under 5 to a fancy pants restaurant. 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 Transcontinental'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 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 95% 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

Neither Transcontinental's ability to grow its EBIT nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Transcontinental is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with Transcontinental .

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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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.