Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That Empresas Copec (SNSE:COPEC) Is Using Debt Extensively

SNSE:COPEC
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. 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$8.40b of debt at December 2021, down from US$9.07b a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$1.83b, its net debt is less, at about US$6.58b.

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SNSE:COPEC Debt to Equity History April 18th 2022

How Strong Is Empresas Copec's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Empresas Copec had liabilities of US$3.37b due within a year, and liabilities of US$10.8b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$1.83b in cash and US$2.58b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$9.74b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit is considerable relative to its very significant market capitalization of US$10.8b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Empresas Copec's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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). 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 of 2.1 times EBITDA suggests graceful use of debt. And the alluring interest cover (EBIT of 9.8 times interest expense) certainly does not do anything to dispel this impression. Notably, Empresas Copec's EBIT launched higher than Elon Musk, gaining a whopping 197% on last year. 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual 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

Neither Empresas Copec's ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to grow its EBIT with ease. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Empresas Copec is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. 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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for Empresas Copec (1 is significant) you should be aware of.

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.