Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 note that Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd. (HKG:1099) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
See our latest analysis for Sinopharm Group
How Much Debt Does Sinopharm Group Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of September 2023, Sinopharm Group had CN¥85.4b of debt, up from CN¥72.6b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have CN¥44.3b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CN¥41.1b.
How Strong Is Sinopharm Group's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Sinopharm Group had liabilities of CN¥278.8b due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥25.3b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥44.3b in cash and CN¥250.7b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥9.05b.
Since publicly traded Sinopharm Group shares are worth a total of CN¥54.2b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward.
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).
With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.7, Sinopharm Group uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the fact that its trailing twelve months of EBIT was 9.0 times its interest expenses harmonizes with that theme. The good news is that Sinopharm Group has increased its EBIT by 4.7% over twelve months, which should ease any concerns about debt repayment. 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 Sinopharm Group 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Sinopharm Group's free cash flow amounted to 33% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.
On our analysis Sinopharm Group's interest cover should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to convert EBIT to free cash flow. We would also note that Healthcare industry companies like Sinopharm Group commonly do use debt without problems. Considering this range of data points, we think Sinopharm Group is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. Another positive for shareholders is that it pays dividends. So if you like receiving those dividend payments, check Sinopharm Group's dividend history, without delay!
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.
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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.