Debt to Shareholders' Equity Ratio
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Total Current Liabilities
Deferred Income Tax
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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Total Liabilities and the Debt to Shareholders' Equity ratio
TOTAL LIABILITIES AND THE DEBT TO SHAREHOLDERS' EQUITY RATIO
Total liabilities is the sum of all the liabilities of the company. It is an important number that can be used to give us the debt to shareholders' equity ratio, which, with slight modification, can be used to help us identify whether or not a business has a durable competitive advantage.
The debt to shareholders' equity ratio has historically been used to help us identify whether or not a company is using debt to finance its operations or equity (which includes retained earnings).
- The company with a durable competitive advantage will be using its earning power to finance its operations and therefore, in theory, should show a higher level of shareholders' equity and a lower level of total liabilities.
- The company without a competitive advantage will be using debt to finance its operations and, therefore, should show just the opposite, a lower level of shareholders' equity and a higher level of total liabilities.
The equation is: Debt to Shareholders' Equity Ratio = Total Liabilities / Shareholders' Equity.
The problem with using the debt to equity ratio as an identifier is that the economics of companies with a durable competitive advantage are so great that they don't need a large amount of equity/retained earnings on their balance sheets to get the job done; in some cases they don't need any. Because of their great earning power they will often spend their built-up equity/retained earnings on buying back their stock, which decreases their equity/retained earnings base. That in turn increases their debt to equity ratio, often to the point that their debt to equity ratio looks like that of a mediocre business---one without a durable competitive advantage.
Moody's, a Warren favorite, is an excellent example of this phenomenon. It has such great economics working in its favor that it doesn't need to maintain any shareholders' equity. It actually spent all of its shareholders' equity on buying back its shares. It literally has negative shareholders' equity. This means that its debt to shareholders' equity ratio looks more like that of GM---a company without a durable competitive advantage and a negative net worth---than, say, that of Coca-Cola, a company with a durable competitive advantage.
However, if we add back into Moody's shareholders' equity the value of all the treasury stock that Moody has acquired through stock buybacks, then Moody's debt to equity ratio drops down to .63, in line with Coke's treasury share-adjusted ratio of .51. GM still has a negative net worth, even with the addition of the value of its treasury shares, which are nonexistent because GM doesn't have the money to buy back its shares.
It is easy to see the contrast between companies with a durable competitive advantage and those without it when we look at the treasury share-adjusted debt to shareholders' equity ratio. Durable competitive advantage holder Procter & Gamble has an adjusted ratio of .71; Wrigley, meanwhile, has a ratio of .68---which means that for every dollar of shareholders' equity Wrigley has, it also has 68 cents in debt. Contrast P&G and Wrigley with Goodyear Tire, which has an adjusted ratio of 4.35, or Ford, which has an adjusted ratio of 38.0. This means that for every dollar of shareholders' equity that Ford has, it also has $38 in debt---which equates to $7.2 billion in shareholders' equity and $275 billion in debt.
With financial institutions like banks, the ratios, on average, tend to be much higher than those of their manufacturing cousins. Banks borrow tremendous amounts of money and then loan it all back out, making money on the spread between what they paid for the money and what they can loan it out for. This leads to an enormous amount of liabilities, which are offset by a tremendous amount of assets. On average, the big American money center banks have $10 in liabilities for every dollar of shareholders' equity they keep on their books. This is what Warren means when he says that banks are highly leveraged operations. There are exceptions though and one of them is M&T Bank, a longtime Warren favorite. M&T has a ratio of 7.7, which is reflective of its management's more conservative lending practices.
The simple rule here is that, unless we are looking at a financial institution, any time we see an adjusted debt to shareholders' equity ratio below .80 (the lower the better), there is a good chance that the company in question has the coveted durable competitive advantage we are looking for.
And finding what one is looking for is always a good thing, especially if one is looking to get rich.