These 4 Measures Indicate That Greentown China Holdings (HKG:3900) Is Using Debt Extensively

By
Simply Wall St
Published
September 11, 2021
SEHK:3900
Source: Shutterstock

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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. We note that Greentown China Holdings Limited (HKG:3900) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Greentown China Holdings

What Is Greentown China Holdings's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2021, Greentown China Holdings had CN¥127.9b of debt, up from CN¥111.9b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have CN¥56.6b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CN¥71.4b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:3900 Debt to Equity History September 12th 2021

How Healthy Is Greentown China Holdings' Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Greentown China Holdings had liabilities of CN¥287.2b due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥103.2b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥56.6b in cash and CN¥78.7b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥255.2b.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CN¥25.8b company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Greentown China Holdings would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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). 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 Greentown China Holdings has a sky high EBITDA ratio of 6.7, implying high debt, but a strong interest coverage of 93.2. So either it has access to very cheap long term debt or that interest expense is going to grow! One way Greentown China Holdings could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 14%, as it did over the last year. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Greentown China Holdings's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. 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. During the last three years, Greentown China Holdings burned a lot of cash. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

To be frank both Greentown China Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at covering its interest expense with its EBIT; that's encouraging. We're quite clear that we consider Greentown China Holdings to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. 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 4 warning signs for Greentown China Holdings (1 is a bit unpleasant!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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