Is Mercer International (NASDAQ:MERC) Using Debt Sensibly?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 29, 2020

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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We note that Mercer International Inc. (NASDAQ:MERC) 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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Mercer International

How Much Debt Does Mercer International Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2020 Mercer International had US$1.12b of debt, an increase on US$984.1m, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$345.6m in cash leading to net debt of about US$772.8m.

NasdaqGS:MERC Debt to Equity History December 29th 2020

A Look At Mercer International's Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Mercer International had liabilities of US$200.7m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.29b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$345.6m as well as receivables valued at US$202.6m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$945.8m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$661.9m, we think shareholders really should watch Mercer International'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. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Mercer International can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

In the last year Mercer International had a loss before interest and tax, and actually shrunk its revenue by 20%, to US$1.4b. That makes us nervous, to say the least.

Caveat Emptor

While Mercer International's falling revenue is about as heartwarming as a wet blanket, arguably its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) loss is even less appealing. Indeed, it lost US$18m at the EBIT level. When we look at that alongside the significant liabilities, we're not particularly confident about the company. It would need to improve its operations quickly for us to be interested in it. Not least because it burned through US$31m in negative free cash flow over the last year. That means it's on the risky side of things. 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. Take risks, for example - Mercer International has 3 warning signs (and 1 which is potentially serious) we think you should know about.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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.
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