Stock Analysis

Here's Why Empresas Copec (SNSE:COPEC) Is Weighed Down By Its Debt Load

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.' 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 should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Empresas Copec

What Is Empresas Copec's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2023, Empresas Copec had US$9.88b of debt, up from US$8.54b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$1.48b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$8.40b.

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SNSE:COPEC Debt to Equity History December 28th 2023

How Healthy Is Empresas Copec's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Empresas Copec had liabilities of US$5.21b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$10.6b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.48b as well as receivables valued at US$2.79b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$11.5b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$9.48b, we think shareholders really should watch Empresas Copec's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Empresas Copec's debt is 4.1 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.0 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Even worse, Empresas Copec saw its EBIT tank 55% over the last 12 months. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. 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 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into 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

Mulling over Empresas Copec's attempt at (not) growing its EBIT, we're certainly not enthusiastic. And even its interest cover fails to inspire much confidence. Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, it looks like Empresas Copec has too much debt. While some investors love that sort of risky play, it's certainly not our cup of tea. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example Empresas Copec has 5 warning signs (and 2 which are significant) we think you should know about.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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

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.