These 4 Measures Indicate That Turners Automotive Group (NZSE:TRA) Is Using Debt Extensively

By
Simply Wall St
Published
June 09, 2021
NZSE:TRA
Source: Shutterstock

Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 Turners Automotive Group Limited (NZSE:TRA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out 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 Turners Automotive Group had debt of NZ$331.4m at the end of March 2021, a reduction from NZ$350.4m over a year. On the flip side, it has NZ$82.8m in cash leading to net debt of about NZ$248.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NZSE:TRA Debt to Equity History June 10th 2021

How Strong Is Turners Automotive Group's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Turners Automotive Group had liabilities of NZ$3.45m due within a year, and liabilities of NZ$481.4m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of NZ$82.8m as well as receivables valued at NZ$15.3m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by NZ$386.8m.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of NZ$361.5m, we think shareholders really should watch Turners Automotive 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 measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (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).

Turners Automotive Group has net debt to EBITDA of 4.6 suggesting it uses a fair bit of leverage to boost returns. On the plus side, its EBIT was 7.6 times its interest expense, and its net debt to EBITDA, was quite high, at 4.6. If Turners Automotive Group can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 17% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Turners Automotive Group saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

Mulling over Turners Automotive Group's attempt at converting EBIT to free cash flow, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear to us that Turners Automotive Group's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. 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. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for Turners Automotive Group (1 is a bit concerning) you should be aware of.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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