Stock Analysis

Is Thomson Reuters (TSE:TRI) Using Too Much Debt?

TSX:TRI
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, Thomson Reuters Corporation (TSE:TRI) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

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What Is Thomson Reuters's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2022 Thomson Reuters had US$4.76b of debt, an increase on US$3.79b, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$1.27b, its net debt is less, at about US$3.49b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:TRI Debt to Equity History March 10th 2023

How Strong Is Thomson Reuters' Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Thomson Reuters had liabilities of US$4.89b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.87b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$1.27b in cash and US$1.07b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$7.42b.

Given Thomson Reuters has a humongous market capitalization of US$57.8b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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 a debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.9, Thomson Reuters uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the alluring interest cover (EBIT of 8.3 times interest expense) certainly does not do anything to dispel this impression. One way Thomson Reuters could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 17%, as it did over the last year. 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 Thomson Reuters 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.

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. Over the last three years, Thomson Reuters recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 92% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

Happily, Thomson Reuters's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Zooming out, Thomson Reuters seems to use debt quite reasonably; and that gets the nod from us. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. 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. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Thomson Reuters that you should be aware of.

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.

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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.