Stock Analysis

Empresas Copec (SNSE:COPEC) Use Of Debt Could Be Considered Risky

SNSE:COPEC
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Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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. We can see that Empresas Copec S.A. (SNSE:COPEC) does use debt in its business. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Empresas Copec

How Much Debt Does Empresas Copec Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of March 2023, Empresas Copec had US$9.90b of debt, up from US$8.39b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$1.67b, its net debt is less, at about US$8.22b.

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SNSE:COPEC Debt to Equity History June 29th 2023

A Look At Empresas Copec's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Empresas Copec had liabilities of US$5.19b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$11.1b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.67b as well as receivables valued at US$3.32b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$11.3b.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$9.52b, 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Empresas Copec has net debt to EBITDA of 2.7 suggesting it uses a fair bit of leverage to boost returns. But the high interest coverage of 7.9 suggests it can easily service that debt. Unfortunately, Empresas Copec's EBIT flopped 15% over the last four quarters. If that sort of decline is not arrested, then the managing its debt will be harder than selling broccoli flavoured ice-cream for a premium. 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. In the last three years, Empresas Copec basically broke even on a free cash flow basis. Some might say that's a concern, when it comes considering how easily it would be for it to down debt.

Our View

To be frank both Empresas Copec's level of total liabilities and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Empresas Copec's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. 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. Be aware that Empresas Copec is showing 4 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those is concerning...

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.

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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.