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 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 can see that Hengan International Group Company Limited (HKG:1044) does use debt in its business. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
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, 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 thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
See our latest analysis for Hengan International Group
What Is Hengan International Group’s Net Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Hengan International Group had CN¥18.2b of debt in December 2021, down from CN¥20.9b, one year before. However, its balance sheet shows it holds CN¥18.2b in cash, so it actually has CN¥19.6m net cash.
How Strong Is Hengan International Group’s Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Hengan International Group had liabilities of CN¥22.0b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥974.8m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥18.2b in cash and CN¥4.86b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its total liabilities are just about perfectly matched by its shorter-term, liquid assets.
This state of affairs indicates that Hengan International Group’s balance sheet looks quite solid, as its total liabilities are just about equal to its liquid assets. So it’s very unlikely that the CN¥34.1b company is short on cash, but still worth keeping an eye on the balance sheet. Simply put, the fact that Hengan International Group has more cash than debt is arguably a good indication that it can manage its debt safely.
But the bad news is that Hengan International Group has seen its EBIT plunge 13% in the last twelve months. We think hat kind of performance, if repeated frequently, could well lead to difficulties for the stock. There’s no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Hengan International Group’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. Hengan International Group may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Over the most recent three years, Hengan International Group recorded free cash flow worth 71% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
While it is always sensible to investigate a company’s debt, in this case Hengan International Group has CN¥19.6m in net cash and a decent-looking balance sheet. And it impressed us with free cash flow of CN¥3.6b, being 71% of its EBIT. So we are not troubled with Hengan International Group’s debt use. 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. Case in point: We’ve spotted 2 warning signs for Hengan International Group you should be aware of.
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.