Stock Analysis

We Think ITOCHU (TSE:8001) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

TSE:8001
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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 might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We can see that ITOCHU Corporation (TSE:8001) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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, 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.

Check out our latest analysis for ITOCHU

What Is ITOCHU's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2023 ITOCHU had JP¥3.32t of debt, an increase on JP¥3.09t, over one year. However, it also had JP¥660.7b in cash, and so its net debt is JP¥2.66t.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSE:8001 Debt to Equity History March 15th 2024

A Look At ITOCHU's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that ITOCHU had liabilities of JP¥4.76t due within a year, and liabilities of JP¥3.93t falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of JP¥660.7b as well as receivables valued at JP¥3.25t due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by JP¥4.78t.

ITOCHU has a very large market capitalization of JP¥9.26t, 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.

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.

ITOCHU has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.2, which signals significant debt, but is still pretty reasonable for most types of business. However, its interest coverage of 1k is very high, suggesting that the interest expense on the debt is currently quite low. Unfortunately, ITOCHU saw its EBIT slide 3.7% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue on that decline then managing that debt will be difficult like delivering hot soup on a unicycle. 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 ITOCHU'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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, ITOCHU actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

ITOCHU's interest cover was a real positive on this analysis, as was its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. On the other hand, its net debt to EBITDA makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think ITOCHU is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. 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. Be aware that ITOCHU is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , you should know about...

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether ITOCHU is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.