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 Diploma PLC (LON:DPLM) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Diploma Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2021 Diploma had UK£206.2m of debt, an increase on none, over one year. However, it also had UK£24.8m in cash, and so its net debt is UK£181.4m.
A Look At Diploma's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Diploma had liabilities of UK£176.4m due within 12 months, and liabilities of UK£266.0m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of UK£24.8m as well as receivables valued at UK£112.8m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling UK£304.8m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded Diploma shares are worth a total of UK£3.99b, 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.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Diploma has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.3. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 17.2 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. On top of that, Diploma grew its EBIT by 62% 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 Diploma 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. During the last three years, Diploma generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 91% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Happily, Diploma's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that Diploma is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. Above most other metrics, we think its important to track how fast earnings per share is growing, if at all. If you've also come to that realization, you're in luck, because today you can view this interactive graph of Diploma's earnings per share history for free.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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.