Is Micro Focus International (LON:MCRO) A Risky Investment?

Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, ‘The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about… and every practical investor I know worries about.’ 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, Micro Focus International plc (LON:MCRO) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Micro Focus International

What Is Micro Focus International’s Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Micro Focus International had US$4.65b of debt in April 2021, down from US$4.95b, one year before. On the flip side, it has US$698.1m in cash leading to net debt of about US$3.96b.

LSE:MCRO Debt to Equity History July 4th 2021

A Look At Micro Focus International’s Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, Micro Focus International had liabilities of US$1.76b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$5.91b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$698.1m in cash and US$684.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$6.29b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the US$2.04b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Micro Focus International would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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).

Weak interest cover of 0.74 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 6.3 hit our confidence in Micro Focus International like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we’d consider it to have a heavy debt load. Worse, Micro Focus International’s EBIT was down 58% over the last year. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball’s chance in hell of paying off that debt. 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 Micro Focus 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.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Micro Focus International actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

On the face of it, Micro Focus International’s EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it’s pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that’s encouraging. Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, it looks like Micro Focus International has too much debt. That sort of riskiness is ok for some, but it certainly doesn’t float our boat. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. For example – Micro Focus International has 3 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

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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