Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 China Sandi Holdings Limited (HKG:910) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own 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, 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.
What Is China Sandi Holdings's Net Debt?
As you can see below, China Sandi Holdings had CN¥9.55b of debt, at December 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has CN¥592.9m in cash leading to net debt of about CN¥8.96b.
A Look At China Sandi Holdings' Liabilities
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that China Sandi Holdings had liabilities of CN¥15.7b due within 12 months and liabilities of CN¥9.14b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of CN¥592.9m and CN¥1.02b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling CN¥23.3b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CN¥1.62b 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'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt. After all, China Sandi 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).
China Sandi Holdings shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (22.4), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 2.2 times the interest expense. This means we'd consider it to have a heavy debt load. Even worse, China Sandi Holdings saw its EBIT tank 52% over the last 12 months. If earnings continue to follow that trajectory, paying off that debt load will be harder than convincing us to run a marathon in the rain. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is China Sandi Holdings's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. 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 we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, China Sandi 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.
To be frank both China Sandi Holdings's EBIT growth rate and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. And even its net debt to EBITDA fails to inspire much confidence. Considering everything we've mentioned above, it's fair to say that China Sandi Holdings is carrying heavy debt load. If you play with fire you risk getting burnt, so we'd probably give this stock a wide berth. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example China Sandi Holdings has 3 warning signs (and 1 which makes us a bit uncomfortable) 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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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.