Stock Analysis

Is Bharat Petroleum (NSE:BPCL) Using Too Much Debt?

NSEI:BPCL
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Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, '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 Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (NSE:BPCL) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, 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.

Check out our latest analysis for Bharat Petroleum

What Is Bharat Petroleum's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2022, Bharat Petroleum had ₹723.7b of debt, up from ₹503.0b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of ₹60.9b, its net debt is less, at about ₹662.8b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NSEI:BPCL Debt to Equity History December 14th 2022

How Strong Is Bharat Petroleum's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Bharat Petroleum had liabilities of ₹893.4b due within 12 months, and liabilities of ₹606.6b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of ₹60.9b as well as receivables valued at ₹50.1b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by ₹1.39t.

This deficit casts a shadow over the ₹750.9b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Bharat Petroleum would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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.

Bharat Petroleum shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (8.3), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 1.3 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Worse, Bharat Petroleum's EBIT was down 84% 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. 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 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, Bharat Petroleum created free cash flow amounting to 11% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.

Our View

On the face of it, Bharat Petroleum's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. And even its interest cover fails to inspire much confidence. Considering everything we've mentioned above, it's fair to say that Bharat Petroleum is carrying heavy debt load. If you play with fire you risk getting burnt, so we'd probably give this stock a wide berth. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example - Bharat Petroleum has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

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.