Stock Analysis

Is Automatic Data Processing (NASDAQ:ADP) A Risky Investment?

  •  Updated
NasdaqGS:ADP
Source: Shutterstock

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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. As with many other companies Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (NASDAQ:ADP) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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. 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 Automatic Data Processing

How Much Debt Does Automatic Data Processing Carry?

As you can see below, Automatic Data Processing had US$3.12b of debt, at June 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$1.44b in cash leading to net debt of about US$1.69b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:ADP Debt to Equity History August 11th 2022

How Strong Is Automatic Data Processing's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Automatic Data Processing had liabilities of US$55.2b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$4.68b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.44b and US$3.17b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$55.2b.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Automatic Data Processing has a huge market capitalization of US$104.9b, 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.

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.

Automatic Data Processing's net debt is only 0.39 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 94.3 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. And we also note warmly that Automatic Data Processing grew its EBIT by 15% last year, making its debt load easier 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 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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. 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 72% 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. Taking all this data into account, it seems to us that Automatic Data Processing takes a pretty sensible approach to debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Automatic Data Processing you should be aware of.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Automatic Data Processing is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

View the Free Analysis