Stock Analysis

Does Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

NasdaqGS:GOOGL
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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. Importantly, Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own 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. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Alphabet

How Much Debt Does Alphabet Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Alphabet had US$12.9b in debt in December 2022; about the same as the year before. However, it does have US$113.8b in cash offsetting this, leading to net cash of US$100.9b.

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NasdaqGS:GOOGL Debt to Equity History April 4th 2023

A Look At Alphabet's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Alphabet had liabilities of US$69.3b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$39.8b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$113.8b as well as receivables valued at US$40.3b due within 12 months. So it actually has US$44.9b 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!

But the other side of the story is that Alphabet saw its EBIT decline by 4.9% over the last year. That sort of decline, if sustained, will obviously make debt harder to handle. 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 Alphabet's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. 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 87% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Summing Up

While it is always sensible to investigate a company's debt, in this case Alphabet has US$100.9b in net cash and a decent-looking balance sheet. And it impressed us with free cash flow of US$60b, being 87% of its EBIT. 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.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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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.