Stock Analysis

Does Perennial Energy Holdings (HKG:2798) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

SEHK:2798
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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. We can see that Perennial Energy Holdings Limited (HKG:2798) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Perennial Energy Holdings

How Much Debt Does Perennial Energy Holdings Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of December 2020, Perennial Energy Holdings had CN¥375.9m of debt, up from CN¥211.4m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of CN¥139.6m, its net debt is less, at about CN¥236.3m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:2798 Debt to Equity History May 1st 2021

How Healthy Is Perennial Energy Holdings' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Perennial Energy Holdings had liabilities of CN¥506.2m due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥650.0m falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥139.6m in cash and CN¥282.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CN¥734.6m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given Perennial Energy Holdings has a market capitalization of CN¥20.3b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. But either way, Perennial Energy Holdings has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

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). 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).

Perennial Energy Holdings has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.39. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 33.8 times the size. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. In addition to that, we're happy to report that Perennial Energy Holdings has boosted its EBIT by 72%, thus reducing the spectre of future debt repayments. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Perennial Energy Holdings will need earnings to service that debt. 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the last three years, Perennial Energy Holdings saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

Happily, Perennial Energy Holdings's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But we must concede we find its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow has the opposite effect. All these things considered, it appears that Perennial Energy Holdings can comfortably handle its current debt levels. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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. For instance, we've identified 1 warning sign for Perennial Energy Holdings 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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