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. Importantly, EOG Resources, Inc. (NYSE:EOG) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does EOG Resources Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that EOG Resources had US$5.12b of debt in June 2019, down from US$6.43b, one year before. On the flip side, it has US$1.16b in cash leading to net debt of about US$3.95b.
How Strong Is EOG Resources's Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that EOG Resources had liabilities of US$4.41b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$10.7b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.16b and US$2.12b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$11.8b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit isn't so bad because EOG Resources is worth a massive US$41.7b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
EOG Resources has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.46. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 21.1 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. In addition to that, we're happy to report that EOG Resources has boosted its EBIT by 68%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. 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 EOG Resources 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 we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last two years, EOG Resources's free cash flow amounted to 36% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
Happily, EOG Resources's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But truth be told we feel its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow does undermine this impression a bit. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like EOG Resources is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. We'd be motivated to research the stock further if we found out that EOG Resources insiders have bought shares recently. If you would too, then you're in luck, since today we're sharing our list of reported insider transactions for free.
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
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