Is Turners Automotive Group (NZSE:TRA) Using Too Much Debt?

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. As with many other companies Turners Automotive Group Limited (NZSE:TRA) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Turners Automotive Group

What Is Turners Automotive Group’s Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at March 2020 Turners Automotive Group had debt of NZ$350.4m, up from NZ$312.9m in one year. However, it also had NZ$98.8m in cash, and so its net debt is NZ$251.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NZSE:TRA Debt to Equity History September 20th 2020

How Strong Is Turners Automotive Group’s Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Turners Automotive Group had liabilities of NZ$244.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of NZ$241.4m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of NZ$98.8m as well as receivables valued at NZ$10.4m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total NZ$376.2m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the NZ$197.6m company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we’d watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Turners Automotive Group would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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). 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).

Turners Automotive Group has a rather high debt to EBITDA ratio of 6.1 which suggests a meaningful debt load. However, its interest coverage of 4.6 is reasonably strong, which is a good sign. We saw Turners Automotive Group grow its EBIT by 9.0% in the last twelve months. That’s far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Turners Automotive Group’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.

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. During the last three years, Turners Automotive Group 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 Turners Automotive Group’s conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it’s pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that’s encouraging. Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, it looks like Turners Automotive Group has too much debt. While some investors love that sort of risky play, it’s certainly not our cup of tea. 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 learn about the 3 warning signs we’ve spotted with Turners Automotive Group (including 2 which is don’t sit too well with us) .

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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