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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We can see that Mineral Resources Limited (ASX:MIN) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Mineral Resources's Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2019, Mineral Resources had AU$983.8m of debt, up from AU$239.3m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had AU$265.4m in cash, and so its net debt is AU$718.4m.
A Look At Mineral Resources's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Mineral Resources had liabilities of AU$424.8m due within a year, and liabilities of AU$1.36b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of AU$265.4m and AU$221.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling AU$1.29b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Mineral Resources has a market capitalization of AU$2.50b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
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).
Mineral Resources's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.7 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 11.2 times, makes us even more comfortable. Sadly, Mineral Resources's EBIT actually dropped 5.2% in the last year. If that earnings trend continues then its debt load will grow heavy like the heart of a polar bear watching its sole cub. 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 Mineral Resources's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
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 three years, Mineral Resources 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.
Mulling over Mineral Resources's attempt at converting EBIT to free cash flow, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But at least it's pretty decent at covering its interest expense with its EBIT; that's encouraging. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that Mineral Resources's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Mineral Resources insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.
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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