Stock Analysis

Is Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group (HKG:1599) Using Too Much Debt?

SEHK:1599
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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 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 Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group Co., Limited (HKG:1599) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free 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. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group

What Is Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at September 2022 Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group had debt of CN¥6.92b, up from CN¥5.63b in one year. On the flip side, it has CN¥2.82b in cash leading to net debt of about CN¥4.09b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:1599 Debt to Equity History January 26th 2023

How Strong Is Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group had liabilities of CN¥11.2b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥4.83b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CN¥2.82b as well as receivables valued at CN¥8.81b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥4.38b.

This deficit casts a shadow over the CN¥2.68b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Strangely Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group has a sky high EBITDA ratio of 8.7, implying high debt, but a strong interest coverage of 1k. This means that unless the company has access to very cheap debt, that interest expense will likely grow in the future. Importantly, Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 49% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. In the last three years, Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group's free cash flow amounted to 27% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

To be frank both Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group's EBIT growth rate and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. After considering the datapoints discussed, we think Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group has too much debt. While some investors love that sort of risky play, it's certainly not our cup of tea. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Beijing Urban Construction Design & Development Group you should be aware of, and 1 of them makes us a bit uncomfortable.

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.

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

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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.