These 4 Measures Indicate That Kowloon Development (HKG:34) Is Using Debt Extensively

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 21, 2021
SEHK:34
Source: Shutterstock

David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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 note that Kowloon Development Company Limited (HKG:34) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Kowloon Development

How Much Debt Does Kowloon Development Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of June 2021 Kowloon Development had HK$15.9b of debt, an increase on HK$13.8b, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of HK$2.53b, its net debt is less, at about HK$13.4b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:34 Debt to Equity History December 21st 2021

A Look At Kowloon Development's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Kowloon Development had liabilities of HK$9.05b due within 12 months and liabilities of HK$10.5b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of HK$2.53b and HK$1.03b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling HK$16.0b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of HK$11.6b, we think shareholders really should watch Kowloon Development's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. Hypothetically, extremely heavy dilution would be required if the company were forced to pay down its liabilities by raising capital at the current share price.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). 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).

Strangely Kowloon Development has a sky high EBITDA ratio of 15.1, implying high debt, but a strong interest coverage of 14.6. This means that unless the company has access to very cheap debt, that interest expense will likely grow in the future. Importantly, Kowloon Development's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 63% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then paying off its debt will be about as easy as herding cats on to a roller coaster. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Kowloon Development will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. 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, Kowloon Development generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 91% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

On the face of it, Kowloon Development's net debt to EBITDA left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But on the bright side, its interest cover is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Kowloon Development has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example Kowloon Development has 3 warning signs (and 2 which are a bit concerning) we think you should know about.

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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