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.' 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. As with many other companies AppFolio, Inc. (NASDAQ:APPF) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does AppFolio Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2019 AppFolio had US$49.2m of debt, an increase on none, over one year. However, it also had US$38.9m in cash, and so its net debt is US$10.2m.
A Look At AppFolio's Liabilities
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that AppFolio had liabilities of US$41.8m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$66.1m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$38.9m in cash and US$8.18m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$60.8m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Having regard to AppFolio's size, it seems that its liquid assets are well balanced with its total liabilities. So while it's hard to imagine that the US$3.31b company is struggling for cash, we still think it's worth monitoring its balance sheet. But either way, AppFolio has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
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).
AppFolio has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.57. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 22.3 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. In fact AppFolio's saving grace is its low debt levels, because its EBIT has tanked 31% in the last twelve months. Falling earnings (if the trend continues) could eventually make even modest debt quite risky. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if AppFolio can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, AppFolio 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.
Happily, AppFolio's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But we must concede we find its EBIT growth rate has the opposite effect. All these things considered, it appears that AppFolio can comfortably handle its current debt levels. 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 AppFolio, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.
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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