These 4 Measures Indicate That Diageo (LON:DGE) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

By
Simply Wall St
Published
October 08, 2021
LSE:DGE
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, '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. As with many other companies Diageo plc (LON:DGE) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

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. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Diageo

What Is Diageo's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Diageo had UK£14.8b of debt at June 2021, down from UK£16.8b a year prior. However, it does have UK£2.80b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about UK£12.0b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
LSE:DGE Debt to Equity History October 9th 2021

How Healthy Is Diageo's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Diageo had liabilities of UK£7.14b falling due within a year, and liabilities of UK£16.4b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of UK£2.80b as well as receivables valued at UK£2.38b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total UK£18.3b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Diageo has a very large market capitalization of UK£82.0b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Diageo has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.0, which signals significant debt, but is still pretty reasonable for most types of business. However, its interest coverage of 10.9 is very high, suggesting that the interest expense on the debt is currently quite low. Diageo grew its EBIT by 7.4% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off 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 Diageo 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Diageo recorded free cash flow worth 64% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

The good news is that Diageo's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its net debt to EBITDA. All these things considered, it appears that Diageo can comfortably handle its current debt levels. 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. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example - Diageo has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

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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