Stock Analysis

Empresas Copec (SNSE:COPEC) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

SNSE:COPEC
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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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, Empresas Copec S.A. (SNSE:COPEC) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for Empresas Copec

What Is Empresas Copec's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Empresas Copec had US$8.54b of debt, at September 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it also had US$1.69b in cash, and so its net debt is US$6.84b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SNSE:COPEC Debt to Equity History January 30th 2023

How Strong Is Empresas Copec's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Empresas Copec had liabilities of US$4.33b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$10.3b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.69b and US$2.91b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$10.1b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$9.86b, we think shareholders really should watch Empresas Copec's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

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).

Empresas Copec's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 1.9 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 12.4 times, makes us even more comfortable. It is well worth noting that Empresas Copec's EBIT shot up like bamboo after rain, gaining 34% in the last twelve months. That'll make it easier to manage its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Empresas Copec 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.

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 that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Considering the last three years, Empresas Copec actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.

Our View

While Empresas Copec's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow has us nervous. To wit both its interest cover and EBIT growth rate were encouraging signs. We think that Empresas Copec's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Empresas Copec you should be aware of, and 2 of them are potentially serious.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

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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.