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 Mithra Pharmaceuticals S.A. (EBR:MITRA) makes use of debt. 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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Mithra Pharmaceuticals Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2018 Mithra Pharmaceuticals had €136.4m of debt, an increase on €119.5m, over one year. However, it also had €118.9m in cash, and so its net debt is €17.4m.
How Healthy Is Mithra Pharmaceuticals's Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Mithra Pharmaceuticals had liabilities of €36.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of €168.7m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had €118.9m in cash and €22.3m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €63.6m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Of course, Mithra Pharmaceuticals has a market capitalization of €975.4m, so these liabilities are probably manageable. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 1.0 and interest cover of 2.6 times, it seems to us that Mithra Pharmaceuticals is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. So we'd recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. Notably, Mithra Pharmaceuticals made a loss at the EBIT level, last year, but improved that to positive EBIT of €14m in the last twelve months. 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 Mithra Pharmaceuticals 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.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. During the last year, Mithra Pharmaceuticals burned a lot of cash. 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.
Mithra Pharmaceuticals's struggle to convert EBIT to free cash flow had us second guessing its balance sheet strength, but the other data-points we considered were relatively redeeming. But on the bright side, its ability to handle its total liabilities isn't too shabby at all. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that Mithra Pharmaceuticals is taking some risks with its use of debt. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. While Mithra Pharmaceuticals didn't make a statutory profit in the last year, its positive EBIT suggests that profitability might not be far away.Click here to see if its earnings are heading in the right direction, over the medium term.
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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