Stock Analysis

Is Bharat Petroleum (NSE:BPCL) A Risky Investment?

NSEI:BPCL
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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that '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. We note that Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (NSE:BPCL) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Bharat Petroleum

What Is Bharat Petroleum's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of March 2023 Bharat Petroleum had ₹604.5b of debt, an increase on ₹559.3b, over one year. However, it also had ₹68.5b in cash, and so its net debt is ₹536.0b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NSEI:BPCL Debt to Equity History May 24th 2023

How Strong Is Bharat Petroleum's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Bharat Petroleum had liabilities of ₹748.4b due within a year, and liabilities of ₹597.4b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had ₹68.5b in cash and ₹78.4b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total ₹1.20t more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the ₹795.2b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Bharat Petroleum would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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). 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).

While Bharat Petroleum's debt to EBITDA ratio (4.3) suggests that it uses some debt, its interest cover is very weak, at 1.6, suggesting high leverage. 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. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. Worse, Bharat Petroleum's EBIT was down 57% over the last year. 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. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Bharat Petroleum 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.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Bharat Petroleum recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 81% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

To be frank both Bharat Petroleum's level of total liabilities and its track record of (not) growing its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. We're quite clear that we consider Bharat Petroleum to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. 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. 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. For example Bharat Petroleum has 4 warning signs (and 1 which is a bit unpleasant) we think you should know about.

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.

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

Find out whether Bharat Petroleum 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.