David Iben put it well when he said, ‘Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.’ 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. As with many other companies Southern Copper Corporation (NYSE:SCCO) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Ultimately, if the company can’t fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
View our latest analysis for Southern Copper
How Much Debt Does Southern Copper Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Southern Copper had US$6.55b in debt in September 2022; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has US$2.18b in cash leading to net debt of about US$4.37b.
debt-equity-history-analysisA Look At Southern Copper’s Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Southern Copper had liabilities of US$1.48b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$7.97b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$2.18b and US$1.15b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$6.12b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Of course, Southern Copper has a titanic market capitalization of US$59.6b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.
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.
Southern Copper’s net debt is only 0.81 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 14.0 times the size. So we’re pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. But the bad news is that Southern Copper has seen its EBIT plunge 18% in the last twelve months. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Southern Copper’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Southern Copper recorded free cash flow worth 55% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.
When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Southern Copper was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren’t so encouraging. In particular, EBIT growth rate gives us cold feet. Considering this range of data points, we think Southern Copper is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We’ve spotted 2 warning signs for Southern Copper you should be aware of, and 1 of them is concerning.
If you’re interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.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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