November 30, 2022

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt – which is usually involved in bankruptcies – is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We note that Mercer International Inc. (NASDAQ:MERC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
View our latest analysis for Mercer International
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Mercer International had US$1.20b in debt in June 2022; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$494.9m, its net debt is less, at about US$705.1m.
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Mercer International had liabilities of US$273.9m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$1.39b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$494.9m as well as receivables valued at US$308.1m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$860.7m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$886.8m. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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).
With net debt sitting at just 1.1 times EBITDA, Mercer International is arguably pretty conservatively geared. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 7.0 times the interest expense over the last year. Even more impressive was the fact that Mercer International grew its EBIT by 263% over twelve months. If maintained that growth will make the debt even more manageable in the years ahead. 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 Mercer 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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Looking at the most recent two years, Mercer International recorded free cash flow of 29% of its EBIT, which is weaker than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
On our analysis Mercer International's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Mercer International'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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should learn about the 4 warning signs we've spotted with Mercer International (including 1 which makes us a bit uncomfortable) .
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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.
Find out whether Mercer International 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.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
Mercer International Inc., together with its subsidiaries, manufactures and sells northern bleached softwood kraft (NBSK) pulp in Europe, the United States, Asia, and internationally.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Undervalued with solid track record.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
Mercer International Inc., together with its subsidiaries, manufactures and sells northern bleached softwood kraft (NBSK) pulp in Europe, the United States, Asia, and internationally.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Undervalued with solid track record.
Simply Wall Street Pty Ltd (ACN 600 056 611), is a Corporate Authorised Representative (Authorised Representative Number: 467183) of Sanlam Private Wealth Pty Ltd (AFSL No. 337927). Any advice contained in this website is general advice only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should not rely on any advice and/or information contained in this website and before making any investment decision we recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your situation and seek appropriate financial, taxation and legal advice. Please read our Financial Services Guide before deciding whether to obtain financial services from us.

source

Leave a Reply