Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That Wai Chi Holdings (HKG:1305) Is Using Debt Extensively

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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 can see that Wai Chi Holdings Company Limited (HKG:1305) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Wai Chi Holdings

How Much Debt Does Wai Chi Holdings Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of December 2020, Wai Chi Holdings had HK$348.5m of debt, up from HK$290.0m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has HK$174.6m in cash leading to net debt of about HK$173.8m.

SEHK:1305 Debt to Equity History May 4th 2021

How Strong Is Wai Chi Holdings' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Wai Chi Holdings had liabilities of HK$1.24b due within 12 months, and liabilities of HK$36.1m due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of HK$174.6m and HK$728.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total HK$377.3m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the HK$123.6m 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. At the end of the day, Wai Chi Holdings 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). 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).

While Wai Chi Holdings has a quite reasonable net debt to EBITDA multiple of 2.2, its interest cover seems weak, at 1.4. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. While companies often boast that these charges are non-cash, most such businesses will therefore require ongoing investment (that is not expensed.) In any case, it's safe to say the company has meaningful debt. Importantly, Wai Chi Holdings's EBIT fell a jaw-dropping 35% 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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Wai Chi Holdings will need earnings to service that debt. 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Wai Chi Holdings generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 81% 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, Wai Chi Holdings's EBIT growth rate left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. Overall, it seems to us that Wai Chi Holdings's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. 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. 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. To that end, you should learn about the 3 warning signs we've spotted with Wai Chi Holdings (including 1 which is a bit concerning) .

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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About SEHK:1305

Wai Chi Holdings

Wai Chi Holdings Company Limited, an investment holding company, manufactures and trades in light-emitting diode (LED) backlight and LED lighting products to business corporations and public utilities in the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and internationally.

Excellent balance sheet with solid track record.