Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk. 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 Mayne Pharma Group Limited (ASX:MYX) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. 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.
What Is Mayne Pharma Group's Debt?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Mayne Pharma Group had AU$369.8m in debt in June 2019; about the same as the year before. However, it does have AU$89.6m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about AU$280.2m.
A Look At Mayne Pharma Group's Liabilities
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Mayne Pharma Group had liabilities of AU$211.3m due within 12 months and liabilities of AU$410.9m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had AU$89.6m in cash and AU$257.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total AU$275.6m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Mayne Pharma Group has a market capitalization of AU$924.2m, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
While Mayne Pharma Group's debt to EBITDA ratio (2.5) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.4, suggesting high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. Shareholders should be aware that Mayne Pharma Group's EBIT was down 68% last year. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Mayne Pharma Group 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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Mayne Pharma 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.
On the face of it, Mayne Pharma Group's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. Having said that, its ability to handle its total liabilities isn't such a worry. Overall, it seems to us that Mayne Pharma Group's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. Given the risks around Mayne Pharma Group's use of debt, the sensible thing to do is to check if insiders have been unloading the stock.
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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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.