Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, Koninklijke Vopak N.V. (AMS:VPK) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, 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.
What Is Koninklijke Vopak's Net Debt?
As you can see below, at the end of December 2021, Koninklijke Vopak had €2.29b of debt, up from €1.96b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have €73.4m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about €2.21b.
A Look At Koninklijke Vopak's Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that Koninklijke Vopak had liabilities of €960.4m due within a year, and liabilities of €2.78b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had €73.4m in cash and €264.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling €3.40b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of €3.55b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Koninklijke Vopak's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe dilution.
In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Koninklijke Vopak has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.8 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 3.1 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Given the debt load, it's hardly ideal that Koninklijke Vopak's EBIT was pretty flat over the last twelve months. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Koninklijke Vopak'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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Koninklijke Vopak's free cash flow amounted to 33% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
To be frank both Koninklijke Vopak's level of total liabilities and its track record of covering its interest expense with its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least its EBIT growth rate is not so bad. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Koninklijke Vopak has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for Koninklijke Vopak that you should be aware of before investing here.
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.
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.