Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

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. So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We can see that Kinder Morgan, Inc. (NYSE:KMI) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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.

View our latest analysis for Kinder Morgan

How Much Debt Does Kinder Morgan Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Kinder Morgan had US$34.6b in debt in March 2020; about the same as the year before. And it doesn’t have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

NYSE:KMI Historical Debt May 25th 2020
NYSE:KMI Historical Debt May 25th 2020

How Healthy Is Kinder Morgan’s Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Kinder Morgan had liabilities of US$5.61b due within a year, and liabilities of US$33.7b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$486.0m and US$1.19b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$37.6b.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company’s huge US$34.8b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Kinder Morgan shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (5.5), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 2.2 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. More concerning, Kinder Morgan saw its EBIT drop by 2.5% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues the company will face an uphill battle to pay off its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Kinder Morgan’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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it’s worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Kinder Morgan produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 54% of its EBIT, about what we’d expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

To be frank both Kinder Morgan’s interest cover and its track record of managing its debt, based on its EBITDA, make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it’s pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that’s encouraging. Overall, we think it’s fair to say that Kinder Morgan has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. 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. For example, we’ve discovered 3 warning signs for Kinder Morgan (2 make us uncomfortable!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

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.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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. Thank you for reading.