These 4 Measures Indicate That ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

These 4 Measures Indicate That ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

Simply Wall St ·  05/24 15:28

Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.


What Risk Does Debt Bring?


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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.


What Is ConocoPhillips's Net Debt?


As you can see below, at the end of March 2024, ConocoPhillips had US$17.3b of debt, up from US$15.3b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$6.06b in cash, and so its net debt is US$11.3b.


NYSE:COP Debt to Equity History May 24th 2024
纽约证券交易所:COP 债务与股本比率历史记录 2024 年 5 月 24 日

A Look At ConocoPhillips' Liabilities

看看 ConocoPhillips 的负债

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that ConocoPhillips had liabilities of US$10.2b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$35.9b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$6.06b as well as receivables valued at US$5.46b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$34.5b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.


While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since ConocoPhillips has a huge market capitalization of US$138.2b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.


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.


ConocoPhillips has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.46. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 40.8 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. The modesty of its debt load may become crucial for ConocoPhillips if management cannot prevent a repeat of the 37% cut to EBIT over the last year. When it comes to paying off debt, falling earnings are no more useful than sugary sodas are for your health. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if ConocoPhillips 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.


Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, ConocoPhillips recorded free cash flow worth 67% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.


Our View


ConocoPhillips's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better. In particular, we are dazzled with its interest cover. Considering this range of data points, we think ConocoPhillips is in a good position to manage its debt levels. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for ConocoPhillips you should know about.


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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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.

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