Is Genesis Energy (NZSE:GNE) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
July 01, 2021
NZSE:GNE
Source: Shutterstock

The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says '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. Importantly, Genesis Energy Limited (NZSE:GNE) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Genesis Energy

What Is Genesis Energy's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Genesis Energy had NZ$1.22b of debt, at December 2020, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it also had NZ$81.3m in cash, and so its net debt is NZ$1.14b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NZSE:GNE Debt to Equity History July 1st 2021

How Strong Is Genesis Energy's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Genesis Energy had liabilities of NZ$520.6m falling due within a year, and liabilities of NZ$1.94b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had NZ$81.3m in cash and NZ$206.8m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by NZ$2.17b.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of NZ$3.61b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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.

Genesis Energy's debt is 3.0 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.4 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. The good news is that Genesis Energy grew its EBIT a smooth 59% over the last twelve months. Like a mother's loving embrace of a newborn that sort of growth builds resilience, putting the company in a stronger position to manage its debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Genesis Energy can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Genesis Energy actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

Happily, Genesis Energy's impressive conversion of EBIT to free cash flow implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its interest cover. It's also worth noting that Genesis Energy is in the Electric Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Genesis Energy can handle its debt fairly comfortably. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. 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 instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Genesis Energy (1 is potentially serious) you should be aware of.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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