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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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 Upland Software, Inc. (NASDAQ:UPLD) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Upland Software

What Is Upland Software's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2020 Upland Software had US$551.6m of debt, an increase on US$525.1m, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$250.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$301.6m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGM:UPLD Debt to Equity History April 19th 2021

How Strong Is Upland Software's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Upland Software had liabilities of US$121.4m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$583.2m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$250.0m and US$49.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$405.5m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Upland Software has a market capitalization of US$1.35b, 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.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Weak interest cover of 0.10 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 6.0 hit our confidence in Upland Software like a one-two punch to the gut. The debt burden here is substantial. Worse, Upland Software's EBIT was down 79% over the last year. If earnings keep going like that over the long term, it has a snowball's chance in hell of paying off that debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Upland Software can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 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. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

Upland Software's EBIT growth rate and interest cover definitely weigh on it, in our esteem. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Upland Software's debt poses some risks to the business. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. 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 3 warning signs for Upland Software you should be aware of.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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