Stock Analysis

We Think Australis Oil & Gas (ASX:ATS) Can Stay On Top Of Its Debt

  •  Updated
ASX:ATS
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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.' 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, Australis Oil & Gas Limited (ASX:ATS) does carry debt. 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 usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Australis Oil & Gas

What Is Australis Oil & Gas's Debt?

As you can see below, Australis Oil & Gas had US$19.1m of debt at June 2021, down from US$22.5m a year prior. However, it does have US$10.2m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$8.90m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:ATS Debt to Equity History September 10th 2021

How Strong Is Australis Oil & Gas' Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Australis Oil & Gas had liabilities of US$14.3m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$18.5m due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$10.2m as well as receivables valued at US$3.29m due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$19.4m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit isn't so bad because Australis Oil & Gas is worth US$34.8m, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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.

Even though Australis Oil & Gas's debt is only 2.4, its interest cover is really very low at 0.43. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. These charges may be non-cash, so they could be excluded when it comes to paying down debt. But the accounting charges are there for a reason -- some assets are seen to be losing value. In any case, it's safe to say the company has meaningful debt. We also note that Australis Oil & Gas improved its EBIT from a last year's loss to a positive US$960k. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Australis Oil & Gas's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Australis Oil & Gas actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last year. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

Based on what we've seen Australis Oil & Gas is not finding it easy, given its interest cover, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. In particular, we are dazzled with its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Australis Oil & Gas's use of debt. 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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example Australis Oil & Gas has 4 warning signs (and 1 which is concerning) we think you should know about.

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

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