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, Devon Energy Corporation (NYSE:DVN) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. Ultimately, if the company can’t fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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 think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
View our latest analysis for Devon Energy
How Much Debt Does Devon Energy Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of June 2021, Devon Energy had US$6.50b of debt, up from US$4.30b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$1.35b in cash, and so its net debt is US$5.15b.
How Strong Is Devon Energy’s Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Devon Energy had liabilities of US$3.07b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$8.46b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$1.35b and US$1.23b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$8.96b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Devon Energy has a huge market capitalization of US$27.4b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it’s clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
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.
While Devon Energy has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 2.5, its interest cover seems weak, at 1.4. In large part that’s it has so much depreciation and amortisation. While companies often boast that these charges are non-cash, most such businesses will therefore require ongoing investment (that is not expensed.) In any case, it’s safe to say the company has meaningful debt. We saw Devon Energy grow its EBIT by 6.8% in the last twelve months. Whilst that hardly knocks our socks off it is a positive when it comes to debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Devon Energy’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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don’t cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Devon Energy recorded free cash flow worth 59% 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.
Devon Energy’s interest cover was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better. In particular, we thought its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was a positive. Looking at all this data makes us feel a little cautious about Devon Energy’s debt levels. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we’d suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. 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 4 warning signs with Devon Energy (at least 2 which are potentially serious) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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.
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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