December 5, 2022

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 seems the smart money knows that debt – which is usually involved in bankruptcies – is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. Importantly, Computershare Limited (ASX:CPU) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
See our latest analysis for Computershare
As you can see below, at the end of June 2022, Computershare had US$2.49b of debt, up from US$1.71b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has US$1.01b in cash leading to net debt of about US$1.48b.
The latest balance sheet data shows that Computershare had liabilities of US$1.27b due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.63b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.01b and US$488.3m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$2.40b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn't so bad because Computershare is worth US$9.56b, 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.
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).
Computershare's debt is 2.7 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 5.3 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. If Computershare can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 16% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Computershare 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.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Computershare recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 97% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
Computershare's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But truth be told we feel its net debt to EBITDA does undermine this impression a bit. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Computershare is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should learn about the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Computershare (including 1 which is a bit concerning) .
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.
Find out whether Computershare is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
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Computershare Limited provides issuer, employee share plans and voucher, business, communication and utilities, technology, and mortgage and property rental services.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Undervalued with reasonable growth potential.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
Computershare Limited provides issuer, employee share plans and voucher, business, communication and utilities, technology, and mortgage and property rental services.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Undervalued with reasonable growth potential.
Simply Wall Street Pty Ltd (ACN 600 056 611), is a Corporate Authorised Representative (Authorised Representative Number: 467183) of Sanlam Private Wealth Pty Ltd (AFSL No. 337927). Any advice contained in this website is general advice only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should not rely on any advice and/or information contained in this website and before making any investment decision we recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your situation and seek appropriate financial, taxation and legal advice. Please read our Financial Services Guide before deciding whether to obtain financial services from us.

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