Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. Importantly, Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc (LON:SEPL) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. 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. 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 step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
What Is Seplat Petroleum Development's Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of September 2020 Seplat Petroleum Development had US$692.8m of debt, an increase on US$357.5m, over one year. On the flip side, it has US$213.0m in cash leading to net debt of about US$479.8m.
How Strong Is Seplat Petroleum Development's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Seplat Petroleum Development had liabilities of US$447.5m due within a year, and liabilities of US$764.0m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$213.0m in cash and US$318.6m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$680.0m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's US$518.4m market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. 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.
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.
Seplat Petroleum Development has net debt worth 1.7 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 3.0 times the interest expense. It seems that the business incurs large depreciation and amortisation charges, so maybe its debt load is heavier than it would first appear, since EBITDA is arguably a generous measure of earnings. Shareholders should be aware that Seplat Petroleum Development's EBIT was down 52% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Seplat Petroleum Development'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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Seplat Petroleum Development actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.
To be frank both Seplat Petroleum Development'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 conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear to us that Seplat Petroleum Development's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. 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. Take risks, for example - Seplat Petroleum Development has 5 warning signs we think you should be aware of.
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.
If you’re looking to trade Seplat Petroleum Development, open an account with the lowest-cost* platform trusted by professionals, Interactive Brokers. Their clients from over 200 countries and territories trade stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds worldwide from a single integrated account.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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.
*Interactive Brokers Rated Lowest Cost Broker by StockBrokers.com Annual Online Review 2020
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.