Stock Analysis

Callon Petroleum (NYSE:CPE) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

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NYSE:CPE
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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 can see that Callon Petroleum Company (NYSE:CPE) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Callon Petroleum

How Much Debt Does Callon Petroleum Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Callon Petroleum had debt of US$2.69b at the end of December 2021, a reduction from US$2.97b over a year. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.

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NYSE:CPE Debt to Equity History April 7th 2022

How Strong Is Callon Petroleum's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Callon Petroleum had liabilities of US$872.5m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$2.81b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$9.88m in cash and US$232.4m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$3.44b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of US$3.65b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Callon Petroleum's use of debt. 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). 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).

Callon Petroleum has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.0 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 5.2 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Notably, Callon Petroleum's EBIT launched higher than Elon Musk, gaining a whopping 478% on last year. 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 Callon 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. Over the last three years, Callon Petroleum saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

Mulling over Callon Petroleum's attempt at converting EBIT to free cash flow, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Callon Petroleum stock a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Callon Petroleum 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.

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