Stock Analysis

Is Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) A Risky Investment?

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NasdaqGS:NFLX
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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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We note that Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Netflix

What Is Netflix's Debt?

As you can see below, Netflix had US$14.3b of debt, at September 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have US$7.87b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$6.43b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:NFLX Debt to Equity History January 15th 2024

How Healthy Is Netflix's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Netflix had liabilities of US$8.34b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$19.1b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$7.87b and US$1.14b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$18.4b.

Of course, Netflix has a titanic market capitalization of US$215.4b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Netflix's net debt is only 1.0 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 12.6 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Fortunately, Netflix grew its EBIT by 5.1% in the last year, making that debt load look even more manageable. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. 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're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, Netflix's free cash flow amounted to 36% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

The good news is that Netflix's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Netflix can handle its debt fairly comfortably. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Netflix, 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.