Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 note that Tencent Holdings Limited (HKG:700) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Tencent Holdings Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2022 Tencent Holdings had debt of CN¥326.3b, up from CN¥277.1b in one year. However, it also had CN¥292.2b in cash, and so its net debt is CN¥34.1b.
How Healthy Is Tencent Holdings' Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Tencent Holdings had liabilities of CN¥300.2b due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥355.6b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of CN¥292.2b and CN¥70.9b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total CN¥292.7b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Of course, Tencent Holdings has a titanic market capitalization of CN¥2.27t, so these liabilities are probably manageable. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. Carrying virtually no net debt, Tencent Holdings has a very light debt load indeed.
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.
Tencent Holdings's net debt is only 0.22 times its EBITDA. And its EBIT covers its interest expense a whopping 135 times over. So we're pretty relaxed about its super-conservative use of debt. The modesty of its debt load may become crucial for Tencent Holdings if management cannot prevent a repeat of the 22% cut to EBIT over the last year. When it comes to paying off debt, falling earnings are no more useful than sugary sodas are for your health. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Tencent Holdings 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Tencent Holdings generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 99% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Happily, Tencent Holdings's impressive interest cover implies it has the upper hand on its debt. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its EBIT growth rate. All these things considered, it appears that Tencent 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. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Tencent Holdings 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.
Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.
Find out whether Tencent Holdings is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.View the Free Analysis
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.
Tencent Holdings Limited, an investment holding company, provides value-added services (VAS) and Online advertising services in Mainland China and internationally.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
|Analysis Area||Score (0-6)|
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Flawless balance sheet and good value.