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Does Jiangsu Expressway (HKG:177) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

Simply Wall St ·  {{timeTz}}

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 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 Jiangsu Expressway Company Limited (HKG:177) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Jiangsu Expressway

What Is Jiangsu Expressway's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2022 Jiangsu Expressway had debt of CN¥28.3b, up from CN¥25.7b in one year. However, it also had CN¥4.94b in cash, and so its net debt is CN¥23.3b.

debt-equity-history-analysisSEHK:177 Debt to Equity History September 19th 2022

How Healthy Is Jiangsu Expressway's Balance Sheet ?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Jiangsu Expressway had liabilities of CN¥15.7b due within 12 months, and liabilities of CN¥18.8b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CN¥4.94b as well as receivables valued at CN¥1.37b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CN¥28.3b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of CN¥35.5b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Jiangsu Expressway's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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).

Jiangsu Expressway's net debt is 4.3 times its EBITDA, which is a significant but still reasonable amount of leverage. But its EBIT was about 1k times its interest expense, implying the company isn't really paying a high cost to maintain that level of debt. Even were the low cost to prove unsustainable, that is a good sign. Importantly, Jiangsu Expressway's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 29% in the last twelve months. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Jiangsu Expressway 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.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the last three years, Jiangsu Expressway reported free cash flow worth 18% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.

Our View

We'd go so far as to say Jiangsu Expressway's EBIT growth rate was disappointing. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. It's also worth noting that Jiangsu Expressway is in the Infrastructure industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Jiangsu Expressway has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Jiangsu Expressway (of which 1 is concerning!) you should know about.

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.

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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