David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. As with many other companies Capita plc (LON:CPI) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does Capita Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Capita had UK£1.01b of debt in June 2021, down from UK£1.44b, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of UK£576.0m, its net debt is less, at about UK£432.0m.
How Healthy Is Capita's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Capita had liabilities of UK£2.37b due within 12 months and liabilities of UK£1.12b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of UK£576.0m and UK£692.3m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by UK£2.22b.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the UK£836.9m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Capita would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 1.5 and interest cover of 4.3 times, it seems to us that Capita 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. Pleasingly, Capita is growing its EBIT faster than former Australian PM Bob Hawke downs a yard glass, boasting a 141% gain in the last twelve months. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Capita's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Considering the last three years, Capita actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.
To be frank both Capita's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear to us that Capita's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 4 warning signs for Capita you should be aware of, and 3 of them are potentially serious.
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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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.
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