We Think Tencent Holdings (HKG:700) Can Manage Its Debt With Ease

By
Simply Wall St
Published
September 16, 2021
SEHK:700
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 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 note that Tencent Holdings Limited (HKG:700) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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 Tencent Holdings

How Much Debt Does Tencent Holdings Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Tencent Holdings had CN¥277.1b in debt in June 2021; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of CN¥216.9b, its net debt is less, at about CN¥60.2b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:700 Debt to Equity History September 17th 2021

How Healthy Is Tencent Holdings' Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Tencent Holdings had liabilities of CN¥277.6b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥313.2b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CN¥216.9b as well as receivables valued at CN¥69.7b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥304.1b.

Since publicly traded Tencent Holdings shares are worth a very impressive total of CN¥3.55t, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Tencent Holdings has net debt of just 0.33 times EBITDA, suggesting it could ramp leverage without breaking a sweat. And remarkably, despite having net debt, it actually received more in interest over the last twelve months than it had to pay. So there's no doubt this company can take on debt while staying cool as a cucumber. Also good is that Tencent Holdings grew its EBIT at 18% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Tencent Holdings's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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. During the last three years, Tencent Holdings generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 95% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

The good news is that Tencent Holdings's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is also very heartening. Overall, we don't think Tencent Holdings is taking any bad risks, as its debt load seems modest. So the balance sheet looks pretty healthy, to us. 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. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Tencent 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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