Stock Analysis

Here's Why Intertek Group (LON:ITRK) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

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LSE:ITRK
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. As with many other companies Intertek Group plc (LON:ITRK) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Intertek Group

How Much Debt Does Intertek Group Carry?

As you can see below, Intertek Group had UK£623.8m of debt at December 2020, down from UK£856.8m a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of UK£203.9m, its net debt is less, at about UK£419.9m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
LSE:ITRK Debt to Equity History June 7th 2021

How Strong Is Intertek Group's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Intertek Group had liabilities of UK£751.2m due within 12 months and liabilities of UK£860.9m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had UK£203.9m in cash and UK£606.9m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total UK£801.3m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Since publicly traded Intertek Group shares are worth a very impressive total of UK£8.57b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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.

Intertek Group has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.72. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 14.4 times over. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. But the bad news is that Intertek Group has seen its EBIT plunge 19% in the last twelve months. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. 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 Intertek Group 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.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Intertek Group generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 94% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

The good news is that Intertek Group's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But we must concede we find its EBIT growth rate has the opposite effect. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Intertek Group can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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. Be aware that Intertek Group is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , you should know about...

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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