Gearing

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DEFINITION of 'Gearing'

The level of a company’s debt related to its equity capital, usually expressed in percentage form. Gearing is a measure of a company’s financial leverage and shows the extent to which its operations are funded by lenders versus shareholders. The term “gearing” also refers to the ratio between a company’s stock price and the price of its warrants. Gearing can be measured by a number of ratios, including the debt-to-equity ratio, equity ratio and debt-service ratio. The appropriate level of gearing for a company depends on its sector, as well as the degree of leverage employed by its peers.

BREAKING DOWN 'Gearing'

For example, a gearing ratio of 70% shows that a company’s debt levels are 70% of its equity. Is this too much debt? That depends on the industry in which the company operates. A gearing ratio of 70% may be very manageable for a utility, but it may be far too much for a technology company.

In general, a company with excessive leverage as demonstrated by its high gearing ratio may be more vulnerable to economic downturns. This is because it has to make interest payments and service its debt through cash flows that may be significantly lower due to the downturn.

The flipside of this argument is that leverage works well during good times, since all the excess cash flows accrue to shareholders once the debt service payments have been made.

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