Is ASGN (NYSE:ASGN) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 14, 2022
NYSE:ASGN
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.' 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 ASGN Incorporated (NYSE:ASGN) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.

View our latest analysis for ASGN

How Much Debt Does ASGN Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that ASGN had US$1.03b in debt in September 2021; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$679.4m, its net debt is less, at about US$354.1m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ASGN Debt to Equity History January 14th 2022

A Look At ASGN's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that ASGN had liabilities of US$591.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$1.20b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$679.4m and US$697.7m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$415.0m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given ASGN has a market capitalization of US$6.16b, 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

ASGN has net debt of just 0.79 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 9.6 times the interest expense over the last year. Another good sign is that ASGN has been able to increase its EBIT by 24% in twelve months, making it easier to pay down debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if ASGN 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. Happily for any shareholders, ASGN actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

The good news is that ASGN's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that ASGN is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So we're not worried about the use of a little leverage on the balance sheet. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with ASGN .

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.

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