Stock Analysis

Empresas Copec (SNSE:COPEC) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

SNSE:COPEC
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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says '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, Empresas Copec S.A. (SNSE:COPEC) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out the opportunities and risks within the XX Oil and Gas industry.

What Is Empresas Copec's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Empresas Copec had US$8.52b in debt in June 2022; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has US$1.80b in cash leading to net debt of about US$6.71b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SNSE:COPEC Debt to Equity History November 1st 2022

A Look At Empresas Copec's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Empresas Copec had liabilities of US$4.45b due within a year, and liabilities of US$10.5b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.80b and US$3.07b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$10.1b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's US$8.96b 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.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). 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).

We'd say that Empresas Copec's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.9), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its commanding EBIT of 13.2 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Importantly, Empresas Copec grew its EBIT by 79% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. 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 Empresas Copec'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, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Empresas Copec recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is far more risky for companies with unreliable free cash flow, so shareholders should be hoping that the past expenditure will produce free cash flow in the future.

Our View

We feel some trepidation about Empresas Copec's difficulty conversion of EBIT to free cash flow, but we've got positives to focus on, too. To wit both its interest cover and EBIT growth rate were encouraging signs. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think Empresas Copec's debt poses some risks to the business. So while that leverage does boost returns on equity, we wouldn't really want to see it increase from here. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 3 warning signs for Empresas Copec (of which 2 make us uncomfortable!) you should know about.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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Find out whether Empresas Copec 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.