Encouraged by low interest rates and the need to gain a competitive edge, 26 per cent of the top 135 UK fuels companies have spent the past three years gradually increasing their levels of debt, according to the latest Plimsoll Portfolio Analysis.

It claims that 35 of the top 135 companies have seen their total debt position increase by almost 254 per cent.

“Over the past three years debt has risen to such an extent that it now accounts for almost 11 per cent of total sales, severely compromising levels of profitability,” said senior analyst David Pattison.

He added that these companies were now faced with severe commercial disadvantage.

“Debt is threatening their survival in the industry and exposing them to their competitors as potential acquisition opportunities.”

Pattison said a company’s financial health an appear misleadingly favourable on the surface, but the latest analysis went beneath the tip of the iceberg, exposing many of the facts that many of the top 135 companies in the UK fuels industry would rather were not made public.