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Is F5 (NASDAQ:FFIV) A Risky Investment?

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David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. As with many other companies F5, Inc. (NASDAQ:FFIV) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for F5

What Is F5's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that F5 had debt of US$359.4m at the end of March 2022, a reduction from US$378.7m over a year. However, its balance sheet shows it holds US$887.1m in cash, so it actually has US$527.7m net cash.

debt-equity-history-analysis
debt-equity-history-analysis

How Healthy Is F5's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that F5 had liabilities of US$1.77b due within a year, and liabilities of US$906.8m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$887.1m and US$665.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$1.13b.

Of course, F5 has a market capitalization of US$9.86b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, F5 boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

The good news is that F5 has increased its EBIT by 6.7% over twelve months, which should ease any concerns about debt repayment. 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 F5'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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. F5 may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Over the last three years, F5 actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Summing up

Although F5's balance sheet isn't particularly strong, due to the total liabilities, it is clearly positive to see that it has net cash of US$527.7m. The cherry on top was that in converted 133% of that EBIT to free cash flow, bringing in US$564m. So we don't think F5's use of debt is risky. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should be aware of the 1 warning sign we've spotted with F5 .

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.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.