The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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 Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG.L) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
What Is Alphabet's Net Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2021, Alphabet had US$12.8b of debt, up from US$3.96b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, its balance sheet shows it holds US$135.9b in cash, so it actually has US$123.0b net cash.
How Strong Is Alphabet's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Alphabet had liabilities of US$55.7b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$42.1b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$135.9b in cash and US$32.9b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it actually has US$70.9b more liquid assets than total liabilities.
This short term liquidity is a sign that Alphabet could probably pay off its debt with ease, as its balance sheet is far from stretched. Succinctly put, Alphabet boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
On top of that, Alphabet grew its EBIT by 88% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Alphabet 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. While Alphabet has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. Over the last three years, Alphabet recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 90% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
While we empathize with investors who find debt concerning, you should keep in mind that Alphabet has net cash of US$123.0b, as well as more liquid assets than liabilities. The cherry on top was that in converted 90% of that EBIT to free cash flow, bringing in US$59b. So is Alphabet's debt a risk? It doesn't seem so to us. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Alphabet, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.
If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
If you decide to trade Alphabet, use the lowest-cost* platform that is rated #1 Overall by Barron’s, Interactive Brokers. Trade stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds on 135 markets, all from a single integrated account. Promoted
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.
*Interactive Brokers Rated Lowest Cost Broker by StockBrokers.com Annual Online Review 2020
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.