Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That Mediterra (ATH:MSHOP) Is Using Debt Extensively

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ATSE:MSHOP
Source: Shutterstock

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.' 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. We note that Mediterra S.A. (ATH:MSHOP) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

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How Much Debt Does Mediterra Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2020 Mediterra had debt of €2.39m, up from €224.7k in one year. However, it also had €2.06m in cash, and so its net debt is €329.5k.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ATSE:MSHOP Debt to Equity History May 14th 2021

How Healthy Is Mediterra's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Mediterra had liabilities of €6.58m falling due within a year, and liabilities of €680.4k due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had €2.06m in cash and €4.07m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by €1.13m.

Since publicly traded Mediterra shares are worth a total of €11.9m, 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.

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.

Mediterra has a very low debt to EBITDA ratio of 0.91 so it is strange to see weak interest coverage, with last year's EBIT being only 2.0 times the interest expense. So while we're not necessarily alarmed we think that its debt is far from trivial. Importantly, Mediterra's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 27% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Mediterra will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

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. During the last three years, Mediterra burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

To be frank both Mediterra's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at managing its debt, based on its EBITDA,; that's encouraging. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Mediterra has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. 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. We've identified 4 warning signs with Mediterra (at least 2 which can't be ignored) , 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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