Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That G.A. Holdings (HKG:8126) Is Using Debt Extensively

SEHK:8126
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The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that G.A. Holdings Limited (HKG:8126) 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. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for G.A. Holdings

What Is G.A. Holdings's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that G.A. Holdings had HK$468.5m in debt in June 2021; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of HK$93.7m, its net debt is less, at about HK$374.8m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:8126 Debt to Equity History September 3rd 2021

A Look At G.A. Holdings' Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, G.A. Holdings had liabilities of HK$741.5m due within 12 months, and liabilities of HK$149.5m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of HK$93.7m and HK$226.9m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by HK$570.4m.

This deficit casts a shadow over the HK$118.6m 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, G.A. Holdings would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

G.A. Holdings's net debt is sitting at a very reasonable 2.1 times its EBITDA, while its EBIT covered its interest expense just 4.5 times last year. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Importantly, G.A. Holdings grew its EBIT by 47% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is G.A. Holdings's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So if you're keen to discover more about its earnings, it might be worth checking out this graph of its long term earnings trend.

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. Over the last three years, G.A. Holdings reported free cash flow worth 15% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. For us, cash conversion that low sparks a little paranoia about is ability to extinguish debt.

Our View

Mulling over G.A. Holdings's attempt at staying on top of its total liabilities, we're certainly not enthusiastic. But on the bright side, its EBIT growth rate is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear to us that G.A. Holdings's use of debt is creating risks for the company. If everything goes well that may pay off but the downside of this debt is a greater risk of permanent losses. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for G.A. Holdings you should know about.

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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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.
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