Stock Analysis

Transocean (NYSE:RIG) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

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NYSE:RIG
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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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. Importantly, Transocean Ltd. (NYSE:RIG) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. 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, 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

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What Is Transocean's Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Transocean had US$7.20b in debt in September 2022; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$954.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$6.25b.

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NYSE:RIG Debt to Equity History December 1st 2022

How Strong Is Transocean's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Transocean had liabilities of US$1.51b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$7.89b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$954.0m in cash and US$599.0m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$7.84b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$3.07b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Transocean 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.

Transocean shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (7.0), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.034 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. However, the silver lining was that Transocean achieved a positive EBIT of US$13m in the last twelve months, an improvement on the prior year's loss. 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 Transocean 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. Over the last year, Transocean actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

On the face of it, Transocean's interest cover 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. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Overall, it seems to us that Transocean's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 2 warning signs with Transocean , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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