Does Metro (TSE:MRU) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

Warren Buffett famously said, ‘Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.’ 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. Importantly, Metro Inc. (TSE:MRU) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of ‘creative destruction’ where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

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What Is Metro’s Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Metro had CA$2.65b in debt in March 2023; about the same as the year before. However, it also had CA$65.9m in cash, and so its net debt is CA$2.58b.

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TSX:MRU Debt to Equity History July 27th 2023

A Look At Metro’s Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Metro had liabilities of CA$1.90b due within 12 months, and liabilities of CA$5.05b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$65.9m as well as receivables valued at CA$797.0m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CA$6.09b.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Metro has a huge market capitalization of CA$16.6b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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). 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).

We’d say that Metro’s moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.5), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its strong interest cover of 11.9 times, makes us even more comfortable. The good news is that Metro has increased its EBIT by 8.3% over twelve months, which should ease any concerns about debt repayment. 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 Metro’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Metro recorded free cash flow worth 70% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Metro’s interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14’s goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Metro takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. That means they are taking on a bit more risk, in the hope of boosting shareholder returns. We’d be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Metro insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you’re in luck, since today we’re sharing our list of reported insider transactions for free.

Of course, if you’re the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don’t hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

Valuation is complex, but we’re helping make it simple.

Find out whether Metro is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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