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These 4 Measures Indicate That SPAR Group (NASDAQ:SGRP) Is Using Debt Safely

Simply Wall St

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.' 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 SPAR Group, Inc. ( NASDAQ:SGRP ) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. 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 step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for SPAR Group

How Much Debt Does SPAR Group Carry?

As you can see below, SPAR Group had US$19.3m of debt, at June 2019, which is about the same the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it also had US$7.83m in cash, and so its net debt is US$11.5m.

NasdaqCM:SGRP Historical Debt, September 17th 2019

A Look At SPAR Group's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that SPAR Group had liabilities of US$52.4m due within a year, and liabilities of US$5.56m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$7.83m in cash and US$57.5m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it can boast US$7.29m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This luscious liquidity implies that SPAR Group's balance sheet is sturdy like a giant sequoia tree. On this basis we think its balance sheet is strong like a sleek panther or even a proud lion.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

SPAR Group has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 1.1. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 10.6 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Better yet, SPAR Group grew its EBIT by 139% last year, which is an impressive improvement. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is SPAR Group's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot .

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. In the last three years, SPAR Group's free cash flow amounted to 22% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

The good news is that SPAR Group's demonstrated ability to grow its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But truth be told we feel its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow does undermine this impression a bit. Looking at the bigger picture, we think SPAR Group's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. We'd be very excited to see if SPAR Group insiders have been snapping up shares. If you are too, then click on this link right now to take a (free) peek at our list of reported insider transactions.

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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com . This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.