When analyzing capital structure decisions, external stakeholders can obtain an approximate idea of the capital structure of the particular firm by using information in the firm’s financial statements to calculate various debt ratios.

When analyzing capital structure decisions of firms as outsiders, we need to consider two types of debt measures:

The first type of debt ratio measures the degree of indebtedness. This refers to how much debt the firm has relative to other balance sheet’s amounts. The debt ratio will measure the degree of indebtedness.

The second type of debt ratio measures the ability to service debts. This type of debt ratios measures the ability of the business to meet its obligations associated with debt, as they come due. Times Interest Earned Ratio and Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio will be considered to measure the ability to service debts.

Both techniques are very simple to use and effective at analysing capital structure decisions.

# Measuring the degree of indebtedness

**THE DEBT RATIO**

A direct measure of debt is a debt ratio. Debt ratios provide direct information on the financial leverage of an enterprise. Debt ratios measure how many of the firm’s assets are financed by debt. The higher the debt ratio, the higher the degree of financial leverage (amount of debt) and the higher the risk. The formula for the debt ratio is as follows:

**Debt ratio=Total liabilities/Total assets**

Example:

For example, assume that ABC’s total liabilities are $1,700,000 and total assets are $4,000,000.

The debt ratio of ABC is as follows: $1,700,000/$4,000,000=42.5%

This means that ABC’s capital structure is 42.5% of debt and 57.5% of equity.

# Measuring the ability to service debts

**TIME INTEREST EARNED RATIO (INTEREST COVERAGE RATIO)**

The Times Interest Earned Ratio (TIER or Interest Coverage Ratio) measures the ability of the enterprise to meet its financial obligations (interest payments on debt that come due).

When analyzing capital structure decisions, we can use the Times Interest Earned Ratio as an indirect measure of the level of debt in the firm’s capital structure. Commonly, the lower the Times Interest Earned Ratio the higher the degree of financial leverage (amount of debt) and the higher the risk.

The formula for the Times Interest Earned Ratio is as follows:

Times Interest Earned Ratio =EBIT/interest charges

EBIT refers to the earnings before interest and taxes, which is also called operating profit (refer to the Income Statement format to see how it is calculated).

EXAMPLE:

Assume ABC Company has an operating profit of $550,000 and interest charges of $100,000.

The TIER of ABC is as follows:

$550,000/$100,000=5.5

It is generally advisable that the Times Interest Earned Ratio should be between 3 and 5.

ABC’s Times Interest Earned Ratio could be too high. It may be possible that the firm is unnecessarily careful in using debt as a source of capital. This means the risk taken may be lower than average, but so is the return.

When using the Times Interest Earned Ratio, it is important to remember that interest is paid with cash and not with income (since some income may still be in the form of accounts receivable). Therefore, the real ability of the firm to make interest payments may be worse than indicated by the Times Interest Earned Ratio. It is also important to remember that debt obligations include repayment of principal debt as well as payment of interest. The calculation above excludes the principal amount borrowed.

Generally, the higher the Times Interest Earned Ratio the lower the risk an enterprise will not be able to meet its contractual interest obligations on time. Therefore, generally, a higher Times Interest Earned Ratio is the better.

However, cognizance needs to be taken of the fact that the higher the Times Interest Earned Ratio, the lower the risk and lower the return. Therefore, at some point, the Times Interest Earned Ratio may be too high. This will occur if the business is unnecessarily careful with taking up debt as a source of financing, which results in very low risk but also a lower return. This is not aligned with the overall goal of the enterprise which is the maximization of the wealth of its shareholders.

**FIXED PAYMENT COVERAGE RATIO**

Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio measures the ability of the enterprise to meet all of its fixed-payment obligations on time. When analyzing capital structure decisions, we can use the Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio as an indirect measure of the level of debt in the firm’s capital structure. Commonly, the lower the Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio the higher the degree of financial leverage (amount of debt) and the higher the risk.

The formula for the Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio is as follows:

**Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio = EBIT+LP/I+LP +((PP +PSD)*(1/1-T))**

Where:

EBIT – earnings before interest and tax (operating profit)

LP – lease payments

I – interest charges

PP – principal payments

PSD – preferred stock dividends

T – tax rate

**EXAMPLE:**

Assume ABC Company has an operating profit of $550,000 and interest charges of $100,000. The lease payments are fixed at $20,000, principal payments are at $60,000 and preferred stock dividends are at $15,000. The corporate tax rate of ABC is 40%.

The Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio of ABC is calculated as follows:

= 550,000+20,000/100,000+20,000+((60,000+15,000)*(1/1-T))

= 570,000/120,000+((75,000)*1.67)

= 570,000/120,000+125,250

= 570,000/245,250

= 2.3

The Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio of ABC is 2.3. Since EBIT is more than two times larger than fixed-payment obligations, it appears that ABC is in a strong position to live up to its fixed-payment obligations as they come due. However, as with all financial ratios, Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio should be compared to industry average before any conclusions are drawn. Generally, the higher the Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio the lower the risk that enterprise will not be able to meet its fixed-payment obligations on time. Therefore, a higher Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio is the better.

However, as with Times Interest Earned ratio, cognizance needs to be taken of the fact that the higher the Fixed Payment coverage ratio the lower the risk and lower the return. Therefore, at some point, the Fixed Payment Coverage Ratio may be too high. This will occur if the business is unnecessarily careful with taking up more debt which results in a very low risk but also a lower return. This is not aligned with the overall goal of the enterprise which is the maximization of the wealth of its shareholders.

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When analyzing capital structure decisions with the help of debt ratios, one should compare debt ratios of individual firms to industry averages. There is a large variability of debt ratios’ industry averages between industries. This is because different industries have different operations requirements. There is no one perfect ratio. Appropriate ratios to use should determined by the company in question, taking into account company’s ‘s strategy, operating environment, competitive environment and finances.

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