Is Constellation Software (TSE:CSU) A Risky Investment?

Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, ‘The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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. Importantly, Constellation Software Inc. (TSE:CSU) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, 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.

View our latest analysis for Constellation Software

What Is Constellation Software’s Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2023 Constellation Software had US$3.03b of debt, an increase on US$1.83b, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$1.08b in cash leading to net debt of about US$1.95b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
TSX:CSU Debt to Equity History January 7th 2024

A Look At Constellation Software’s Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Constellation Software has liabilities of US$5.10b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$2.95b due beyond that. On the other hand, it has cash of US$1.08b and US$1.55b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$5.42b.

Given Constellation Software has a humongous market capitalization of US$53.1b, it’s hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. Having said that, it’s clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, let it change for the worse.

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).

With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.6, Constellation Software uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 7.4 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. Another good sign is that Constellation Software has been able to increase its EBIT by 21% in twelve months, making it easier to pay down debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analyzing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Constellation Software can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Constellation Software actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There’s nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders’ good graces.

Our View

The good news is that Constellation Software’s demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And the good news doesn’t stop there, as its EBIT growth rate also supports that impression! Looking at the bigger picture, we think Constellation Software’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. 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 be aware of the 2 warning signs we’ve spotted with Constellation Software .

When all is said and done, sometimes it’s easier to focus on companies that don’t even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% freeright now.

Valuation is complex, but we’re helping make it simple.

Find out whether Constellation Software 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.

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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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