These 4 Measures Indicate That Telecom Plus (LON:TEP) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 22, 2022
LSE:TEP
Source: Shutterstock

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 note that Telecom Plus Plc (LON:TEP) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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 thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Telecom Plus

What Is Telecom Plus's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2021 Telecom Plus had UK£94.6m of debt, an increase on UK£79.2m, over one year. However, it also had UK£23.2m in cash, and so its net debt is UK£71.4m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
LSE:TEP Debt to Equity History January 22nd 2022

A Look At Telecom Plus' Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Telecom Plus had liabilities of UK£114.8m due within 12 months and liabilities of UK£102.7m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of UK£23.2m as well as receivables valued at UK£145.4m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling UK£49.0m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given Telecom Plus has a market capitalization of UK£1.17b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Telecom Plus has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.2. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 23.8 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. But the bad news is that Telecom Plus has seen its EBIT plunge 11% in the last twelve months. If that rate of decline in earnings continues, the company could find itself in a tight spot. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Telecom Plus's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. 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, Telecom Plus produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 55% 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

Happily, Telecom Plus's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But we must concede we find its EBIT growth rate has the opposite effect. It's also worth noting that Telecom Plus is in the Integrated Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Telecom Plus can handle its debt fairly comfortably. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 2 warning signs with Telecom Plus , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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.

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