Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. We note that Midea Real Estate Holding Limited (HKG:3990) does have debt on its balance sheet . But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. 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.
View our latest analysis for Midea Real Estate Holding
What Is Midea Real Estate Holding's Debt?
As you can see below, Midea Real Estate Holding had CN¥53.1b of debt at June 2022, down from CN¥57.1b a year prior. On the flip side, it has CN¥33.4b in cash leading to net debt of about CN¥19.7b.SEHK:3990 Debt to Equity History September 9th 2022
How Healthy Is Midea Real Estate Holding's Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Midea Real Estate Holding had liabilities of CN¥195.2b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥40.6b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of CN¥33.4b and CN¥34.2b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥168.1b.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CN¥11.2b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Midea Real Estate Holding would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.
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). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).
Midea Real Estate Holding has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.6, which signals significant debt, but is still pretty reasonable for most types of business. However, its interest coverage of 1k is very high, suggesting that the interest expense on the debt is currently quite low. Sadly, Midea Real Estate Holding's EBIT actually dropped 8.9% in the last year. If that earnings trend continues then its debt load will grow heavy like the heart of a polar bear watching its sole cub. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Midea Real Estate Holding 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.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, Midea Real Estate Holding created free cash flow amounting to 9.0% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.
Mulling over Midea Real Estate Holding's attempt at staying on top of its total liabilities, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, it seems to us that Midea Real Estate Holding's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should be aware of the 3 warning signs we've spotted with Midea Real Estate Holding .
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.
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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.