The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital. So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, GoDaddy Inc. (NYSE:GDDY) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does GoDaddy Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that GoDaddy had debt of US$2.46b at the end of September 2019, a reduction from US$2.58b over a year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$990.2m, its net debt is less, at about US$1.47b.
How Healthy Is GoDaddy's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that GoDaddy had liabilities of US$1.97b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$3.52b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$990.2m in cash and US$29.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$4.47b.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since GoDaddy has a huge market capitalization of US$11.9b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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). 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).
While GoDaddy's debt to EBITDA ratio (3.7) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.9, suggesting high leverage. In large part that's due to the company's significant depreciation and amortisation charges, which arguably mean its EBITDA is a very generous measure of earnings, and its debt may be more of a burden than it first appears. It seems clear that the cost of borrowing money is negatively impacting returns for shareholders, of late. However, one redeeming factor is that GoDaddy grew its EBIT at 19% over the last 12 months, boosting its ability to handle its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine GoDaddy'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, 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. Over the last three years, GoDaddy actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for GoDaddy was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. To be specific, it seems about as good at covering its interest expense with its EBIT as wet socks are at keeping your feet warm. Considering this range of data points, we think GoDaddy is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that GoDaddy insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.