Is Progress Software (NASDAQ:PRGS) A Risky Investment?

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David Iben put it well when he said, ‘Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.’ It’s only natural to consider a company’s balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We can see that Progress Software Corporation (NASDAQ:PRGS) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can’t fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

See our latest analysis for Progress Software

How Much Debt Does Progress Software Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at May 2019 Progress Software had debt of US$298.2m, up from US$119.0m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$128.6m, its net debt is less, at about US$169.6m.

NasdaqGS:PRGS Historical Debt, July 15th 2019
NasdaqGS:PRGS Historical Debt, July 15th 2019

How Strong Is Progress Software’s Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Progress Software had liabilities of US$204.2m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$310.4m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$128.6m in cash and US$57.2m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$328.8m.

Given Progress Software has a market capitalization of US$1.87b, it’s hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. Having said that, it’s clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse. Either way, since Progress Software does have more debt than cash, it’s worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet.

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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

Progress Software’s net debt is only 1.27 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 16.6 times the size. So we’re pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. On the other hand, Progress Software’s EBIT dived 12%, over the last year. If that rate of decline in earnings continues, the company could find itself in a tight spot. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Progress Software’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Progress Software actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

Happily, Progress Software’s impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its EBIT growth rate. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Progress Software can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it’s worth monitoring the balance sheet. We’d be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that Progress Software insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you’re in luck, since today we’re sharing our list of reported insider transactions for free.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don’t even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.