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Does Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?
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. When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
See our latest analysis for Netflix
How Much Debt Does Netflix Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2019 Netflix had US$14.8b of debt, an increase on US$10.4b, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$5.02b in cash leading to net debt of about US$9.74b.
A Look At Netflix's Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Netflix had liabilities of US$6.86b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$19.5b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$5.02b and US$979.1m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$20.4b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given Netflix has a humongous market capitalization of US$192.7b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Netflix has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.6 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 4.7 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. It is well worth noting that Netflix's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 62% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Netflix'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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Netflix saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
Netflix's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better. There's no doubt that its ability to to grow its EBIT is pretty flash. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Netflix's use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Be aware that Netflix is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 2 of those are a bit unpleasant...
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.
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Netflix, Inc. provides entertainment services.
Excellent balance sheet with reasonable growth potential.