Stock Analysis

Is MHM Automation (NZSE:MHM) Using Too Much Debt?

  •  Updated
NZSE:MHM
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, MHM Automation Limited (NZSE:MHM) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for MHM Automation

How Much Debt Does MHM Automation Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that MHM Automation had NZ$3.54m of debt in December 2020, down from NZ$5.01m, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of NZ$2.30m, its net debt is less, at about NZ$1.24m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NZSE:MHM Debt to Equity History April 15th 2021

How Strong Is MHM Automation's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that MHM Automation had liabilities of NZ$15.2m due within 12 months and liabilities of NZ$3.82m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of NZ$2.30m and NZ$6.40m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling NZ$10.3m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

MHM Automation has a market capitalization of NZ$32.7m, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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.

MHM Automation has a very low debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.3 so it is strange to see weak interest coverage, with last year's EBIT being only 1.8 times the interest expense. So one way or the other, it's clear the debt levels are not trivial. Importantly, MHM Automation's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 28% in the last twelve months. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is MHM Automation's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

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 most recent two years, MHM Automation recorded free cash flow worth 51% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

On the face of it, MHM Automation's interest cover left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at managing its debt, based on its EBITDA,; that's encouraging. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that MHM Automation's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. We've identified 3 warning signs with MHM Automation (at least 1 which is potentially serious) , 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.

If you’re looking to trade MHM Automation, open an account with the lowest-cost* platform trusted by professionals, Interactive Brokers. Their clients from over 200 countries and territories trade stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds worldwide from a single integrated account. Promoted


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

Find out whether MHM Automation 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.

View the Free Analysis