Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, '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. Importantly, Jiayuan International Group Limited (HKG:2768) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt A Problem?
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 Jiayuan International Group Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of December 2020, Jiayuan International Group had CN¥23.1b of debt, up from CN¥18.4b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had CN¥9.13b in cash, and so its net debt is CN¥14.0b.
How Healthy Is Jiayuan International Group's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that Jiayuan International Group had liabilities of CN¥39.2b due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥15.6b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of CN¥9.13b and CN¥1.20b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥44.5b.
This deficit casts a shadow over the CN¥10.8b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. At the end of the day, Jiayuan International Group would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.
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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
Jiayuan International Group's net debt is 2.7 times its EBITDA, which is a significant but still reasonable amount of leverage. But its EBIT was about 1k times its interest expense, implying the company isn't really paying a high cost to maintain that level of debt. Even were the low cost to prove unsustainable, that is a good sign. If Jiayuan International Group can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 18% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Jiayuan International 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.
Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Jiayuan International Group actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.
Based on what we've seen Jiayuan International Group is not finding it easy, given its level of total liabilities, but the other factors we considered give us cause to be optimistic. There's no doubt that its ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT is pretty flash. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Jiayuan International Group's use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. 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 example, we've discovered 3 warning signs for Jiayuan International Group that you should be aware of before investing here.
If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.
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