Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That Upland Software (NASDAQ:UPLD) Is Using Debt Extensively

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NasdaqGM:UPLD
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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.' 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. Importantly, Upland Software, Inc. (NASDAQ:UPLD) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. 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. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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How Much Debt Does Upland Software Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2020, Upland Software had US$556.2m of debt, up from US$341.6m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$233.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$323.2m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGM:UPLD Debt to Equity History December 17th 2020

A Look At Upland Software's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Upland Software had liabilities of US$115.0m due within a year, and liabilities of US$591.1m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$233.0m in cash and US$48.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$425.1m.

This deficit isn't so bad because Upland Software is worth US$1.33b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

Upland Software shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (6.7), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.075 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Even worse, Upland Software saw its EBIT tank 87% over the last 12 months. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. 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 Upland Software'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. Happily for any shareholders, Upland Software actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Our View

To be frank both Upland Software's interest cover and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that Upland Software's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Consider risks, for instance. Every company has them, and we've spotted 4 warning signs for Upland Software you should know about.

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.

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What are the risks and opportunities for Upland Software?

Upland Software, Inc. provides cloud-based enterprise work management software in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and internationally.

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Rewards

  • Trading at 33.8% below our estimate of its fair value

Risks

  • Shareholders have been diluted in the past year

  • Currently unprofitable and not forecast to become profitable over the next 3 years

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