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Accenture (NYSE:ACN) Could Easily Take On More Debt

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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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. Importantly, Accenture plc (NYSE:ACN) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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 think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Accenture

What Is Accenture's Net Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Accenture had debt of US$65.0m at the end of November 2021, a reduction from US$68.8m over a year. However, its balance sheet shows it holds US$5.64b in cash, so it actually has US$5.58b net cash.

debt-equity-history-analysis
debt-equity-history-analysis

A Look At Accenture's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Accenture had liabilities of US$15.2b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$7.50b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$5.64b as well as receivables valued at US$11.1b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$5.97b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given Accenture has a humongous market capitalization of US$208.5b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. While it does have liabilities worth noting, Accenture also has more cash than debt, so we're pretty confident it can manage its debt safely.

Also positive, Accenture grew its EBIT by 23% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. 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 Accenture 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. While Accenture has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. Over the last three years, Accenture actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Summing up

We could understand if investors are concerned about Accenture's liabilities, but we can be reassured by the fact it has has net cash of US$5.58b. The cherry on top was that in converted 101% of that EBIT to free cash flow, bringing in US$7.2b. So we don't think Accenture's use of debt is risky. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example - Accenture has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.

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