Stock Analysis

Townsquare Media (NYSE:TSQ) Use Of Debt Could Be Considered Risky

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NYSE:TSQ
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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. Importantly, Townsquare Media, Inc. (NYSE:TSQ) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Townsquare Media

How Much Debt Does Townsquare Media Carry?

As you can see below, Townsquare Media had US$543.4m of debt, at December 2020, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$83.2m in cash leading to net debt of about US$460.2m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:TSQ Debt to Equity History March 18th 2021

How Strong Is Townsquare Media's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Townsquare Media had liabilities of US$65.8m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$602.0m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$83.2m in cash and US$58.6m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$525.9m.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$168.6m company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Townsquare Media would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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). 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).

Townsquare Media shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (7.7), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.3 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. Even worse, Townsquare Media saw its EBIT tank 46% over the last 12 months. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Townsquare Media can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, Townsquare Media's free cash flow amounted to 28% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

To be frank both Townsquare Media's EBIT growth rate and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. And furthermore, its net debt to EBITDA also fails to instill confidence. Considering all the factors previously mentioned, we think that Townsquare Media really is carrying too much debt. To us, that makes the stock rather risky, like walking through a dog park with your eyes closed. But some investors may feel differently. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for Townsquare Media you should know about.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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