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Is Mammoth Energy Services (NASDAQ:TUSK) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

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. We note that Mammoth Energy Services, Inc. (NASDAQ:TUSK) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Mammoth Energy Services

What Is Mammoth Energy Services's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, Mammoth Energy Services had US$86.6m of debt, up from US$7.33m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$7.25m, its net debt is less, at about US$79.4m.

NasdaqGS:TUSK Historical Debt, August 27th 2019

How Healthy Is Mammoth Energy Services's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Mammoth Energy Services had liabilities of US$164.5m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$181.2m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$7.25m and US$423.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it actually has US$84.6m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This surplus strongly suggests that Mammoth Energy Services has a rock-solid balance sheet (and the debt is of no concern whatsoever). Having regard to this fact, we think its balance sheet is just as strong as misogynists are weak.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Mammoth Energy Services has net debt of just 0.24 times EBITDA, suggesting it could ramp leverage without breaking a sweat. But the really cool thing is that it actually managed to receive more interest than it paid, over the last year. So there's no doubt this company can take on debt while staying cool as a cucumber. In fact Mammoth Energy Services's saving grace is its low debt levels, because its EBIT has tanked 28% in the last twelve months. When a company sees its earnings tank, it can sometimes find its relationships with its lenders turn sour. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Mammoth Energy Services 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last two years, Mammoth Energy Services reported free cash flow worth 6.0% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.

Our View

The good news is that Mammoth Energy Services's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But we must concede we find its EBIT growth rate has the opposite effect. All these things considered, it appears that Mammoth Energy Services 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. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Mammoth Energy Services insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. 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.