Forge Group debts at $500 million

How does a company go from $91m in cash, $10m in term deposits and just $14.5m in borrowings to falling into administration, with estimated debts of $500 million?

You’d have to ask the board and management of Forge Group (ASX: FGE) that.

At the end of June 2013, the company showed a net cash position of $78.3 million.

But that has quickly spiralled into debts of close to $500 million, according to the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

Existing shareholders are extremely unlikely to get anything, once creditors have been paid back. ANZ Bank (ASX: ANZ) is the ex-mining services company’s single biggest creditor, with an estimated $200 million exposure.

ANZ took over from National Australia Bank (ASX: ANZ) as Forge’s banker in 2013.

Looks like NAB dodged the bullet on that one!

Taking a brief tour through the company’s last annual report doesn’t show any large debt risks, with finance and operating lease liabilities fairly small, and nowhere near $500 million.

The demise of Forge shows that investors should take ‘stated’ assets and liabilities, as well as profits on the income statement with a grain of salt. It also highlights that computer programs trying to pick stocks by using measures such as high return on equity and balance sheet ‘quality’ don’t work.

MACA Limited (ASX: MLD) may be another to follow in the path of disappointment set by predecessors Coffey International Limited (ASX: COF)Skilled Group (ASX: SKE) and Forge.

Foolish takeaway

The music has stopped and as a sector, mining services companies are rushing to find chairs. As Forge has found out, it was too slow. The resources juggernaut is slowly grinding to a halt, and mining services contracts will become thin on the ground. Those companies that survive will need to take a haircut on their margins.

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Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King doesn't own shares in any companies mentioned. You can follow Mike on Twitter @TMFKinga

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