December 5, 2022

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt – which is usually involved in bankruptcies – is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. Importantly, Tetra Tech, Inc. (NASDAQ:TTEK) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
Check out our latest analysis for Tetra Tech
As you can see below, Tetra Tech had US$270.9m of debt, at July 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$217.4m, its net debt is less, at about US$53.5m.
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Tetra Tech had liabilities of US$945.5m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$527.2m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$217.4m as well as receivables valued at US$833.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$421.8m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Since publicly traded Tetra Tech shares are worth a total of US$6.85b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse. But either way, Tetra Tech has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Tetra Tech's net debt is only 0.15 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 26.7 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. Another good sign is that Tetra Tech has been able to increase its EBIT by 21% in twelve months, making it easier to pay down debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Tetra Tech 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. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Tetra Tech actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
Tetra Tech's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. And the good news does not stop there, as its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also supports that impression! Overall, we don't think Tetra Tech is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. 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, we've discovered 1 warning sign for Tetra Tech that you should be aware of before investing here.
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.
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.
Find out whether Tetra Tech is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
Tetra Tech, Inc. provides consulting and engineering services worldwide.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Outstanding track record with flawless balance sheet.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
Tetra Tech, Inc. provides consulting and engineering services worldwide.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Outstanding track record with flawless balance sheet.
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