The capitalization ratio measures the debt component of a company's capital structure, or capitalization (i.e., the sum of long-term debt liabilities and shareholders' equity) to support a company's operations and growth.
Long-term debt is divided by the sum of long-term debt and shareholders' equity. This ratio is considered to be one of the more meaningful of the "debt" ratios - it delivers the key insight into a company's use of leverage.
There is no right amount of debt. Leverage varies according to industries, a company's line of business and its stage of development. Nevertheless, common sense tells us that low debt and high equity levels in the capitalization ratio indicate investment quality.
As of December 31, 2005, with amounts expressed in millions, Zimmer Holdings had total long-term debt of $81.60 (balance sheet), and total long-term debt and shareholders' equity (i.e., its capitalization) of $4,764.40 (balance sheet). By dividing, the equation provides the company with a negligible percentage of leverage as measured by the capitalization ratio.
A company's capitalization (not to be confused with its market capitalization) is the term used to describe the makeup of a company's permanent or long-term capital, which consists of both long-term debt and shareholders' equity. A low level of debt and a healthy proportion of equity in a company's capital structure is an indication of financial fitness.
Prudent use of leverage (debt) increases the financial resources available to a company for growth and expansion. It assumes that management can earn more on borrowed funds than it pays in interest expense and fees on these funds. However successful this formula may seem, it does require a company to maintain a solid record of complying with its various borrowing commitments.
A company considered too highly leveraged (too much debt) may find its freedom of action restricted by its creditors and/or have its profitability hurt by high interest costs. Of course, the worst of all scenarios is having trouble meeting operating and debt liabilities on time and surviving adverse economic conditions. Lastly, a company in a highly competitive business, if hobbled by high debt, will find its competitors taking advantage of its problems to grab more market share.
As mentioned previously, the capitalization ratio is one of the more meaningful debt ratios because it focuses on the relationship of debt liabilities as a component of a company's total capital base, which is the capital raised by shareholders and lenders.
The examples of IBM and Merck will illustrate this important perspective for investors. As of FY 2005, IBM had a capitalization ratio of 32%, and Merck's was 22%. It is difficult to generalize on what a proper capitalization ratio should be, but, on average, it appears that an indicator on either side of 35% is fairly typical for larger companies. Obviously, Merck's low leverage is a significant balance sheet strength considering its ongoing struggle with product liability claims. Eagle Materials and Lincoln Electric have capitalization ratios (FY 2006 and FY 2005) of 30% and 20%, which most likely fall into the average and low ratio range, respectively. Zimmer Holdings' 2% capitalization ratio needs no further comment.
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