Is Zijin Mining Group (HKG:2899) Using Too Much Debt?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
July 25, 2021
SEHK:2899
Source: Shutterstock

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 seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We can see that Zijin Mining Group Company Limited (HKG:2899) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. 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. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Zijin Mining Group

How Much Debt Does Zijin Mining Group Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of March 2021, Zijin Mining Group had CN¥74.3b of debt, up from CN¥56.0b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had CN¥18.3b in cash, and so its net debt is CN¥56.0b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:2899 Debt to Equity History July 26th 2021

How Healthy Is Zijin Mining Group's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Zijin Mining Group had liabilities of CN¥50.2b due within 12 months and liabilities of CN¥60.8b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥18.3b in cash and CN¥4.80b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥87.9b.

Zijin Mining Group has a very large market capitalization of CN¥259.2b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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.

Zijin Mining Group's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.5 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its strong interest cover of 10.4 times, makes us even more comfortable. Importantly, Zijin Mining Group grew its EBIT by 78% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Zijin Mining Group 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last three years, Zijin Mining Group created free cash flow amounting to 8.1% of its EBIT, an uninspiring performance. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.

Our View

Both Zijin Mining Group's ability to to grow its EBIT and its interest cover gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. On the other hand, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow makes us a little less comfortable about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think Zijin Mining Group is in a good position to manage its debt levels. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. 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 - Zijin Mining Group has 3 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

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.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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.
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