We Think Mitie Group (LON:MTO) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 25, 2019
LSE:MTO
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. Importantly, Mitie Group plc (LON:MTO) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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 thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Mitie Group

What Is Mitie Group's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Mitie Group had UK£270.6m in debt in September 2019; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of UK£96.7m, its net debt is less, at about UK£173.9m.

LSE:MTO Historical Debt, November 26th 2019
LSE:MTO Historical Debt, November 26th 2019

A Look At Mitie Group's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Mitie Group had liabilities of UK£606.0m falling due within a year, and liabilities of UK£403.0m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had UK£96.7m in cash and UK£405.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by UK£506.5m.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of UK£484.3m, we think shareholders really should watch Mitie Group's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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

Mitie Group has net debt of just 1.4 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 7.1 times the interest expense over the last year. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Mitie Group has boosted its EBIT by 30%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. 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 Mitie Group 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.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Mitie Group reported free cash flow worth 17% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.

Our View

Neither Mitie Group's ability to handle its total liabilities nor its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But its EBIT growth rate tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. We think that Mitie Group's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. 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. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Mitie Group insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.

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.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Thank you for reading.

Discounted cash flow calculation for every stock

Simply Wall St does a detailed discounted cash flow calculation every 6 hours for every stock on the market, so if you want to find the intrinsic value of any company just search here. It’s FREE.

Make Confident Investment Decisions

Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.