Stock Analysis

MECOM Power and Construction (HKG:1183) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

SEHK:1183
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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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that MECOM Power and Construction Limited (HKG:1183) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for MECOM Power and Construction

What Is MECOM Power and Construction's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of December 2022, MECOM Power and Construction had MO$90.6m of debt, up from none a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of MO$75.7m, its net debt is less, at about MO$14.9m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:1183 Debt to Equity History May 11th 2023

A Look At MECOM Power and Construction's Liabilities

According to the balance sheet data, MECOM Power and Construction had liabilities of MO$512.0m due within 12 months, but no longer term liabilities. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of MO$75.7m as well as receivables valued at MO$643.2m due within 12 months. So it actually has MO$206.9m more liquid assets than total liabilities.

This surplus suggests that MECOM Power and Construction has a conservative balance sheet, and could probably eliminate its debt without much difficulty. Carrying virtually no net debt, MECOM Power and Construction has a very light debt load indeed.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

MECOM Power and Construction has a low debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.15. And remarkably, despite having net debt, it actually received more in interest over the last twelve months than it had to pay. So there's no doubt this company can take on debt while staying cool as a cucumber. It is just as well that MECOM Power and Construction's load is not too heavy, because its EBIT was down 30% over the last year. When it comes to paying off debt, falling earnings are no more useful than sugary sodas are for your health. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is MECOM Power and Construction's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.

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. Over the last three years, MECOM Power and Construction recorded negative free cash flow, in total. Debt is usually more expensive, and almost always more risky in the hands of a company with negative free cash flow. Shareholders ought to hope for an improvement.

Our View

MECOM Power and Construction's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered were considerably better. In particular, we are dazzled with its interest cover. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about MECOM Power and Construction's use of debt. While debt does have its upside in higher potential returns, we think shareholders should definitely consider how debt levels might make the stock more risky. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example, we've discovered 2 warning signs for MECOM Power and Construction (1 doesn't sit too well with us!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether MECOM Power and Construction is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

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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.