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.’ 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. We can see that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. Ultimately, if the company can’t fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
How Much Debt Does Apple Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Apple had debt of US$111.1b at the end of December 2022, a reduction from US$122.8b over a year. However, it also had US$51.4b in cash, and so its net debt is US$59.8b.
How Strong Is Apple’s Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Apple had liabilities of US$137.3b due within a year, and liabilities of US$152.7b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$51.4b as well as receivables valued at US$54.2b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$184.5b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given Apple has a humongous market capitalization of US$2.43t, it’s hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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).
Apple’s net debt is only 0.48 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 579 times the size. So we’re pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. On the other hand, Apple saw its EBIT drop by 2.6% in the last twelve months. If earnings continue to decline at that rate the company may have increasing difficulty managing its debt load. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Apple’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.
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. Over the last three years, Apple recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 92% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we’d usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.
The good news is that Apple’s demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its EBIT growth rate. Looking at the bigger picture, we think Apple’s use of debt seems quite reasonable and we’re not concerned about it. While debt does bring risk, when used wisely it can also bring a higher return on equity. 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. We’ve identified 2 warning signs with Apple , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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.
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.
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