David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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 Matthews International Corporation (NASDAQ:MATW) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Matthews International's Debt?
As you can see below, Matthews International had US$980.3m of debt at June 2019, down from US$1.03b a year prior. However, it also had US$34.4m in cash, and so its net debt is US$945.9m.
A Look At Matthews International's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Matthews International had liabilities of US$314.0m due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.18b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$34.4m and US$318.7m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.14b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's US$948.4m market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet, just like one might study a new partner's social media. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Matthews International has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.8 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 3.0 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Notably, Matthews International's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year, which isn't ideal given the debt load. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Matthews International 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Matthews International recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 89% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Matthews International's level of total liabilities and net debt to EBITDA definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Matthews International's debt poses some risks to the business. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Matthews International, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.
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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