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. Importantly, Maverix Metals Inc. (TSE:MMX) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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.
What Is Maverix Metals's Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of September 2019, Maverix Metals had CA$67.5m of debt, up from CA$7.12m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has CA$6.71m in cash leading to net debt of about CA$60.8m.
A Look At Maverix Metals's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Maverix Metals had liabilities of CA$2.76m falling due within a year, and liabilities of CA$67.7m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$6.71m as well as receivables valued at CA$9.40m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CA$54.4m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given Maverix Metals has a market capitalization of CA$622.3m, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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).
Maverix Metals's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.2 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 5.5 times last year. 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 is well worth noting that Maverix Metals's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 34% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Maverix Metals 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Maverix Metals saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.
Based on what we've seen Maverix Metals is not finding it easy conversion of EBIT to free cash flow, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. In particular, we are dazzled with its EBIT growth rate. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Maverix Metals's use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Maverix Metals 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.
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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.