The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. We can see that CGI Inc. (TSE:GIB.A) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
What Is CGI's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that CGI had CA$3.07b of debt in March 2022, down from CA$3.45b, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of CA$1.06b, its net debt is less, at about CA$2.01b.
How Healthy Is CGI's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that CGI had liabilities of CA$3.64b due within 12 months and liabilities of CA$4.04b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CA$1.06b as well as receivables valued at CA$2.40b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CA$4.23b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Given CGI has a humongous market capitalization of CA$25.6b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
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.
CGI's net debt is only 0.92 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 21.9 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. The good news is that CGI has increased its EBIT by 6.5% over twelve months, which should ease any concerns about debt repayment. 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 CGI 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, CGI recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 83% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Happily, CGI's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Looking at the bigger picture, we think CGI's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that CGI insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
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.
CGI Inc., together with its subsidiaries, provides information technology (IT) and business process services in Canada; Western, Southern, Central, and Eastern Europe; Australia; Scandinavia; Finland, Poland, and Baltics; the United States; the United Kingdom; and the Asia Pacific.
Excellent balance sheet and fair value.