These 4 Measures Indicate That Sage Group (LON:SGE) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 06, 2022
LSE:SGE
Source: Shutterstock

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. We note that The Sage Group plc (LON:SGE) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for Sage Group

How Much Debt Does Sage Group Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Sage Group had debt of UK£714.0m at the end of September 2021, a reduction from UK£877.0m over a year. However, it does have UK£553.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about UK£161.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
LSE:SGE Debt to Equity History January 6th 2022

A Look At Sage Group's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Sage Group had liabilities of UK£1.38b due within 12 months and liabilities of UK£838.0m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had UK£553.0m in cash and UK£248.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total UK£1.42b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Since publicly traded Sage Group shares are worth a very impressive total of UK£8.59b, 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.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Sage Group has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.33. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 17.4 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 Sage Group has seen its EBIT plunge 13% in the last twelve months. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. 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 Sage Group 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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Sage Group produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 79% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

The good news is that Sage Group's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its EBIT growth rate. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Sage Group is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Sage Group insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

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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