Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That Ampol (ASX:ALD) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

ASX:ALD
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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. Importantly, Ampol Limited (ASX:ALD) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Ampol

How Much Debt Does Ampol Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2022 Ampol had AU$2.48b of debt, an increase on AU$1.29b, over one year. However, it does have AU$126.0m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about AU$2.36b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:ALD Debt to Equity History March 15th 2023

How Healthy Is Ampol's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Ampol had liabilities of AU$5.45b due within 12 months, and liabilities of AU$3.83b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had AU$126.0m in cash and AU$2.60b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total AU$6.55b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of AU$7.28b. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Ampol's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 1.7 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 5.7 times last year. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Also relevant is that Ampol has grown its EBIT by a very respectable 30% in the last year, thus enhancing its ability to pay down 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 Ampol'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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last two years, Ampol's free cash flow amounted to 41% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Ampol was the fact that it seems able to grow its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Ampol's debt levels. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. 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 Ampol .

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.

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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.