Nasdaq-Listed Companies

Is Motorcar Parts of America (NASDAQ:MPAA) A Risky Investment?

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. We note that Motorcar Parts of America, Inc. (NASDAQ:MPAA) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

What Is Motorcar Parts of America's Debt?

As you can see below, Motorcar Parts of America had US$122.5m of debt at June 2021, down from US$135.2m a year prior. However, it also had US$26.7m in cash, and so its net debt is US$95.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysisNasdaqGS:MPAA Debt to Equity History October 15th 2021

How Healthy Is Motorcar Parts of America's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Motorcar Parts of America had liabilities of US$335.6m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$263.1m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$26.7m as well as receivables valued at US$80.3m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$491.7m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$382.2m, we think shareholders really should watch Motorcar Parts of America'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.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Motorcar Parts of America has net debt worth 1.7 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 3.0 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it's worth noting that the cost of the company's debt is having a real impact. Importantly, Motorcar Parts of America grew its EBIT by 37% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Motorcar Parts of America 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Considering the last three years, Motorcar Parts of America actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.

Our View

On the face of it, Motorcar Parts of America's level of total liabilities left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear to us that Motorcar Parts of America's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 2 warning signs with Motorcar Parts of America , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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