- United Kingdom
Is Trainline (LON:TRN) Using Too Much Debt?
Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 Trainline Plc (LON:TRN) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
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How Much Debt Does Trainline Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Trainline had debt of UK£124.3m at the end of August 2022, a reduction from UK£203.3m over a year. However, it does have UK£74.9m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about UK£49.4m.
How Healthy Is Trainline's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Trainline had liabilities of UK£240.2m due within 12 months and liabilities of UK£136.7m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of UK£74.9m and UK£49.5m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total UK£252.5m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Since publicly traded Trainline shares are worth a total of UK£1.39b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
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). 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 Trainline has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 2.1, its interest cover seems weak, at 1.4. This does have us wondering if the company pays high interest because it is considered risky. Either way there's no doubt the stock is using meaningful leverage. Notably, Trainline made a loss at the EBIT level, last year, but improved that to positive EBIT of UK£15m in the last twelve months. 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 Trainline'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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Over the last year, Trainline actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Trainline was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. To be specific, it seems about as good at covering its interest expense with its EBIT as wet socks are at keeping your feet warm. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Trainline is managing its debt quite well. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 1 warning sign with Trainline , 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.
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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.
Trainline Plc engages in the operation of an independent rail and coach travel platform that sells rail and coach tickets the United Kingdome and internationally.
Reasonable growth potential with mediocre balance sheet.