Stock Analysis

Thomson Reuters (TSE:TRI) Seems To Use Debt Rather Sparingly

TSX:TRI
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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 can see that Thomson Reuters Corporation (TSE:TRI) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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What Is Thomson Reuters's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of March 2023, Thomson Reuters had US$4.42b of debt, up from US$3.80b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$1.77b, its net debt is less, at about US$2.64b.

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TSX:TRI Debt to Equity History July 26th 2023

How Healthy Is Thomson Reuters' Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Thomson Reuters had liabilities of US$3.74b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.81b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.77b and US$941.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$5.84b.

Since publicly traded Thomson Reuters shares are worth a very impressive total of US$58.8b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 1.3 and interest cover of 6.9 times, it seems to us that Thomson Reuters is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. So we'd recommend keeping a close eye on the impact financing costs are having on the business. Another good sign is that Thomson Reuters has been able to increase its EBIT by 23% in twelve months, making it easier to pay down debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Thomson Reuters 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Thomson Reuters recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 87% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

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! Looking at the bigger picture, we think Thomson Reuters's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for Thomson Reuters you should know about.

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.

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Find out whether Thomson Reuters is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.