Is AGL Energy (ASX:AGL) Weighed On By Its Debt Load?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
September 29, 2021
ASX:AGL
Source: Shutterstock

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. Importantly, AGL Energy Limited (ASX:AGL) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for AGL Energy

How Much Debt Does AGL Energy Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that AGL Energy had AU$3.06b in debt in June 2021; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of AU$91.0m, its net debt is less, at about AU$2.97b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:AGL Debt to Equity History September 29th 2021

How Healthy Is AGL Energy's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, AGL Energy had liabilities of AU$2.98b due within 12 months, and liabilities of AU$6.97b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had AU$91.0m in cash and AU$2.05b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total AU$7.80b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the AU$3.86b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, AGL Energy would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if AGL Energy 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.

In the last year AGL Energy had a loss before interest and tax, and actually shrunk its revenue by 10%, to AU$11b. We would much prefer see growth.

Caveat Emptor

Not only did AGL Energy's revenue slip over the last twelve months, but it also produced negative earnings before interest and tax (EBIT). Indeed, it lost a very considerable AU$1.1b at the EBIT level. When we look at that alongside the significant liabilities, we're not particularly confident about the company. We'd want to see some strong near-term improvements before getting too interested in the stock. For example, we would not want to see a repeat of last year's loss of AU$2.1b. And until that time we think this is a risky stock. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 4 warning signs for AGL Energy that you should be aware of before investing here.

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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