While some businesses pride themselves on being debt-free, most companies have had to borrow at one point or another to buy equipment, build new offices or cut payroll checks. For the investor, the challenge is determining whether the organization’s debt level is sustainable.
Is having debt, in and of itself, harmful? Well, yes and no. In some cases, borrowing may actually be a positive sign. Consider a company that wants to build a new plant because of increased demand for its products. It may have to take out a loan or sell bonds to pay for the construction and equipment costs, but it’s expecting future sales to more than make up for any associated borrowing costs. And because interest expenses are tax-deductible, debt can be a cheaper way to increase assets than equity.
The problem is when the use of debt, also known as leveraging, becomes excessive. With interest payments taking a large chunk out of top-line sales, a company will have less cash to fund marketing, research and development and other important investments.
Large debt loads can make businesses particularly vulnerable during an economic downturn. If the corporation struggles to make regular interest payments, investors are likely to lose confidence and bid down the share price. In more extreme cases, bankruptcy becomes a very real possibility.
For these reasons, seasoned investors take a good look at liabilities before purchasing corporate stock or bonds. As a way to quickly size up businesses in this regard, traders have developed a number of ratios that help separate healthy borrowers from those swimming in debt.
Source : Investopedia