Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. Importantly, CEC International Holdings Limited (HKG:759) does carry debt. 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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, 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.
What Is CEC International Holdings's Debt?
As you can see below, CEC International Holdings had HK$160.5m of debt at October 2020, down from HK$382.1m a year prior. On the flip side, it has HK$109.3m in cash leading to net debt of about HK$51.2m.
A Look At CEC International Holdings' Liabilities
The latest balance sheet data shows that CEC International Holdings had liabilities of HK$489.1m due within a year, and liabilities of HK$99.4m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had HK$109.3m in cash and HK$20.5m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total HK$458.7m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of HK$499.6m. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.
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). 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).
Looking at its net debt to EBITDA of 0.50 and interest cover of 3.1 times, it seems to us that CEC International Holdings is probably using debt in a pretty reasonable way. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. Pleasingly, CEC International Holdings is growing its EBIT faster than former Australian PM Bob Hawke downs a yard glass, boasting a 298% gain in the last twelve months. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since CEC International Holdings will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, CEC International Holdings actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last two years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.
CEC International Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But we must concede we find its interest cover has the opposite effect. All these things considered, it appears that CEC International Holdings can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for CEC International Holdings 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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