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Is BOC Aviation (HKG:2588) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St ·  {{timeTz}}

The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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 BOC Aviation Limited (HKG:2588) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for BOC Aviation

How Much Debt Does BOC Aviation Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that BOC Aviation had US$16.2b of debt in June 2022, down from US$17.1b, one year before. However, it does have US$455.7m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$15.8b.

debt-equity-history-analysisSEHK:2588 Debt to Equity History September 13th 2022

A Look At BOC Aviation's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that BOC Aviation had liabilities of US$2.82b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$15.1b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$455.7m and US$209.0m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$17.2b.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$5.47b 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'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, BOC Aviation 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).

Weak interest cover of 2.5 times and a disturbingly high net debt to EBITDA ratio of 19.2 hit our confidence in BOC Aviation like a one-two punch to the gut. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Fortunately, BOC Aviation grew its EBIT by 7.6% in the last year, slowly shrinking its debt relative to earnings. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine BOC Aviation'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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, BOC Aviation burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

On the face of it, BOC Aviation's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think BOC Aviation has too much debt. While some investors love that sort of risky play, it's certainly not our cup of tea. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for BOC Aviation (1 makes us a bit uncomfortable!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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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