Is MaxLinear (NASDAQ:MXL) A Risky Investment?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 24, 2022
NasdaqGS:MXL
Source: Shutterstock

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. We can see that MaxLinear, Inc. (NASDAQ:MXL) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, 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 MaxLinear

What Is MaxLinear's Net Debt?

As you can see below, MaxLinear had US$326.0m of debt at September 2021, down from US$380.2m a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$169.4m, its net debt is less, at about US$156.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:MXL Debt to Equity History January 24th 2022

How Strong Is MaxLinear's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that MaxLinear had liabilities of US$231.3m due within a year, and liabilities of US$365.1m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$169.4m and US$106.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$320.1m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given MaxLinear has a market capitalization of US$4.45b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.

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).

Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 1.2 and interest cover of 3.1 times, it seems to us that MaxLinear is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. So we'd recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. We also note that MaxLinear improved its EBIT from a last year's loss to a positive US$47m. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine MaxLinear's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, MaxLinear actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last year. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

Happily, MaxLinear's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its interest cover. All these things considered, it appears that MaxLinear can comfortably handle its current debt levels. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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. We've identified 3 warning signs with MaxLinear , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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