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Bunge (NYSE:BG) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, '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, Bunge Limited (NYSE:BG) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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, 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.

See our latest analysis for Bunge

What Is Bunge's Net Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Bunge had US$6.35b of debt in June 2019, down from US$7.98b, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$752.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$5.60b.

NYSE:BG Historical Debt, October 13th 2019

How Strong Is Bunge's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Bunge had liabilities of US$7.46b due within a year, and liabilities of US$6.02b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$752.0m as well as receivables valued at US$2.56b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$10.2b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of US$7.96b, we think shareholders really should watch Bunge's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Bunge's debt is 3.4 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.4 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Looking on the bright side, Bunge boosted its EBIT by a silky 80% in the last year. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing debt. 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 Bunge 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. Over the last three years, Bunge saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

To be frank both Bunge's level of total liabilities and its track record of converting EBIT to free cash flow make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Bunge has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Bunge insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.

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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.