Stock Analysis

Here's Why Empresas Copec (SNSE:COPEC) Has A Meaningful Debt Burden

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. We note that Empresas Copec S.A. (SNSE:COPEC) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Empresas Copec

What Is Empresas Copec's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of December 2020 Empresas Copec had US$9.07b of debt, an increase on US$8.48b, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$2.34b, its net debt is less, at about US$6.73b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SNSE:COPEC Debt to Equity History May 5th 2021

How Healthy Is Empresas Copec's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Empresas Copec had liabilities of US$2.84b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$11.3b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$2.34b in cash and US$2.04b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$9.74b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This is a mountain of leverage even relative to its gargantuan market capitalization of US$14.9b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

While Empresas Copec's debt to EBITDA ratio (4.4) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 2.5, suggesting high leverage. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Investors should also be troubled by the fact that Empresas Copec saw its EBIT drop by 13% over the last twelve months. If that's the way things keep going handling the debt load will be like delivering hot coffees on a pogo stick. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Empresas Copec can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Empresas Copec reported free cash flow worth 6.7% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.

Our View

To be frank both Empresas Copec's EBIT growth rate and its track record of covering its interest expense with its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. And furthermore, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also fails to instill confidence. Overall, it seems to us that Empresas Copec's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. 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. Be aware that Empresas Copec is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those makes us a bit uncomfortable...

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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