We Think Matthews International (NASDAQ:MATW) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

Matthews International Corporation Class A -1.62%

Matthews International Corporation Class A

MATW

29.22

-1.62%

David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. Importantly, Matthews International Corporation (NASDAQ:MATW) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Matthews International

How Much Debt Does Matthews International Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Matthews International had US$849.7m in debt in December 2023; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$38.1m, its net debt is less, at about US$811.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:MATW Debt to Equity History March 30th 2024

How Healthy Is Matthews International's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Matthews International had liabilities of US$349.2m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.05b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$38.1m as well as receivables valued at US$295.5m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.06b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$953.6m, we think shareholders really should watch Matthews International's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

While we wouldn't worry about Matthews International's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.3, we think its super-low interest cover of 2.0 times is a sign of high leverage. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. Looking on the bright side, Matthews International boosted its EBIT by a silky 67% in the last year. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Matthews International'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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Matthews International produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 71% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Neither Matthews International's ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But its EBIT growth rate tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. We think that Matthews International's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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. Be aware that Matthews International is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those is concerning...

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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