Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that ‘Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.’ 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. As with many other companies ZoomInfo Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ:ZI) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt A Problem?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. 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, 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.
How Much Debt Does ZoomInfo Technologies Carry?
As you can see below, ZoomInfo Technologies had US$747.0m of debt at March 2021, down from US$1.24b a year prior. However, it also had US$353.7m in cash, and so its net debt is US$393.3m.
How Healthy Is ZoomInfo Technologies’ Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that ZoomInfo Technologies had liabilities of US$348.2m due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.25b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$353.7m and US$118.4m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$1.13b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Of course, ZoomInfo Technologies has a titanic market capitalization of US$15.7b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). 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 we wouldn’t worry about ZoomInfo Technologies’s net debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.0, we think its super-low interest cover of 1.4 times is a sign of high leverage. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that ZoomInfo Technologies saw its EBIT drop by 18% over the last twelve months. If things keep going like that, handling the debt will about as easy as bundling an angry house cat into its travel box. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if ZoomInfo Technologies can strengthen its balance sheet over time.
Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, ZoomInfo Technologies actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.
Neither ZoomInfo Technologies’s ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT nor its EBIT growth rate gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that ZoomInfo Technologies is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since leverage can boost returns on equity, but it is something to be aware of. 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.