Stock Analysis

Automatic Data Processing (NASDAQ:ADP) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

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NasdaqGS:ADP
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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.' 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. We can see that Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (NASDAQ:ADP) does use debt in its business. 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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Automatic Data Processing

What Is Automatic Data Processing's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Automatic Data Processing had US$2.00b of debt, at December 2020, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have US$1.61b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$382.7m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:ADP Debt to Equity History February 11th 2021

How Healthy Is Automatic Data Processing's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Automatic Data Processing had liabilities of US$39.2b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$4.25b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$1.61b in cash and US$2.51b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$39.3b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Automatic Data Processing has a huge market capitalization of US$71.4b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt. But either way, Automatic Data Processing has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

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

Automatic Data Processing's net debt is only 0.10 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 240 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. While Automatic Data Processing doesn't seem to have gained much on the EBIT line, at least earnings remain stable for now. 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 Automatic Data Processing'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.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Automatic Data Processing produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 74% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Automatic Data Processing's interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But truth be told we feel its level of total liabilities does undermine this impression a bit. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Automatic Data Processing 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 Automatic Data Processing, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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.

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