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. We can see that China Longyuan Power Group Corporation Limited (HKG:916) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. 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 step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
Check out our latest analysis for China Longyuan Power Group
How Much Debt Does China Longyuan Power Group Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2022 China Longyuan Power Group had debt of CN¥108.0b, up from CN¥89.5b in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of CN¥15.6b, its net debt is less, at about CN¥92.4b.SEHK:916 Debt to Equity History September 27th 2022
How Strong Is China Longyuan Power Group's Balance Sheet ?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that China Longyuan Power Group had liabilities of CN¥66.8b due within 12 months and liabilities of CN¥70.2b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CN¥15.6b as well as receivables valued at CN¥30.8b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling CN¥90.7b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's massive market capitalization of CN¥80.7b, we think shareholders really should watch China Longyuan Power Group's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.
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).
China Longyuan Power Group has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 4.5 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 4.0 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Another concern for investors might be that China Longyuan Power Group's EBIT fell 12% in the last year. If that's the way things keep going handling the debt load will be like delivering hot coffees on a pogo stick. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if China Longyuan Power Group 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, China Longyuan Power Group reported free cash flow worth 11% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.
To be frank both China Longyuan Power Group's net debt to EBITDA and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. And furthermore, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow also fails to instill confidence. Overall, it seems to us that China Longyuan Power Group's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. 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. Be aware that China Longyuan Power Group is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , you should know about...
When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.
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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.