These 4 Measures Indicate That Weichai Power (HKG:2338) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

Simply Wall St
December 27, 2021
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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.' 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 can see that Weichai Power Co., Ltd. (HKG:2338) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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 common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.

View our latest analysis for Weichai Power

What Is Weichai Power's Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Weichai Power had CN¥32.5b in debt in September 2021; about the same as the year before. But it also has CN¥76.1b in cash to offset that, meaning it has CN¥43.6b net cash.

SEHK:2338 Debt to Equity History December 27th 2021

A Look At Weichai Power's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Weichai Power had liabilities of CN¥130.8b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥60.5b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CN¥76.1b as well as receivables valued at CN¥62.4b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CN¥52.9b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit isn't so bad because Weichai Power is worth a massive CN¥148.6b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Weichai Power boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

Weichai Power's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year, but that shouldn't be an issue given the it doesn't have a lot of debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Weichai Power 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. While Weichai Power has net cash on its balance sheet, it's still worth taking a look at its ability to convert earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, to help us understand how quickly it is building (or eroding) that cash balance. Over the last three years, Weichai Power actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Summing up

While Weichai Power does have more liabilities than liquid assets, it also has net cash of CN¥43.6b. And it impressed us with free cash flow of CN¥19b, being 125% of its EBIT. So we don't have any problem with Weichai Power's use of debt. 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 instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Weichai Power that you should be aware of.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

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