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Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE:COG) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

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. We can see that Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation (NYSE:COG) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

How Much Debt Does Cabot Oil & Gas Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Cabot Oil & Gas had debt of US$1.05b at the end of March 2021, a reduction from US$1.22b over a year. However, it does have US$173.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$872.5m.

debt-equity-history-analysisNYSE:COG Debt to Equity History July 13th 2021

How Healthy Is Cabot Oil & Gas' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Cabot Oil & Gas had liabilities of US$315.1m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.93b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$173.7m in cash and US$200.4m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$1.87b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Cabot Oil & Gas has a market capitalization of US$7.07b, 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.

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.

Cabot Oil & Gas has net debt of just 1.1 times EBITDA, indicating that it is certainly not a reckless borrower. And this view is supported by the solid interest coverage, with EBIT coming in at 7.4 times the interest expense over the last year. It is just as well that Cabot Oil & Gas's load is not too heavy, because its EBIT was down 37% over the last year. When a company sees its earnings tank, it can sometimes find its relationships with its lenders turn sour. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Cabot Oil & Gas 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Cabot Oil & Gas produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 58% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

Cabot Oil & Gas's struggle to grow its EBIT had us second guessing its balance sheet strength, but the other data-points we considered were relatively redeeming. For example, its net debt to EBITDA is relatively strong. We think that Cabot Oil & Gas's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. 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. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Cabot Oil & Gas that you should be aware of.

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. 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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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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