Stock Analysis

Chevron (NYSE:CVX) Seems To Use Debt Rather Sparingly

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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 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, Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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 thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

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What Is Chevron's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Chevron had US$22.9b of debt at December 2022, down from US$30.9b a year prior. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$17.9b, its net debt is less, at about US$4.99b.

NYSE:CVX Debt to Equity History March 10th 2023

How Healthy Is Chevron's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Chevron had liabilities of US$34.2b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$63.3b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$17.9b as well as receivables valued at US$20.3b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$59.3b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Since publicly traded Chevron shares are worth a very impressive total of US$306.0b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Chevron has very little debt (net of cash), and boasts a debt to EBITDA ratio of 0.077 and EBIT of 95.3 times the interest expense. So relative to past earnings, the debt load seems trivial. Better yet, Chevron grew its EBIT by 129% last year, which is an impressive improvement. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Chevron's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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. During the last two years, Chevron generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 83% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

Happily, Chevron's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Considering this range of factors, it seems to us that Chevron is quite prudent with its debt, and the risks seem well managed. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. 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 - Chevron has 1 warning sign we think you should be aware of.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

What are the risks and opportunities for Chevron?

Chevron Corporation, through its subsidiaries, engages in the integrated energy and chemicals operations in the United States and internationally.

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  • Price-To-Earnings ratio (8.6x) is below the US market (14.6x)

  • Earnings have grown 18.9% per year over the past 5 years


  • Earnings are forecast to decline by an average of 14.1% per year for the next 3 years

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