- Hong Kong
- Telecom Services and Carriers
China Tower (HKG:788) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly
Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. As with many other companies China Tower Corporation Limited (HKG:788) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
When Is Debt A Problem?
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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. 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.
See our latest analysis for China Tower
What Is China Tower's Net Debt?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that China Tower had CN¥57.0b of debt in December 2022, down from CN¥78.7b, one year before. However, it also had CN¥6.32b in cash, and so its net debt is CN¥50.7b.
How Healthy Is China Tower's Balance Sheet?
The latest balance sheet data shows that China Tower had liabilities of CN¥65.2b due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥46.8b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥6.32b in cash and CN¥36.6b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CN¥69.1b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since China Tower has a huge market capitalization of CN¥149.8b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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).
While China Tower's low debt to EBITDA ratio of 0.95 suggests only modest use of debt, the fact that EBIT only covered the interest expense by 5.1 times last year does give us pause. But the interest payments are certainly sufficient to have us thinking about how affordable its debt is. China Tower grew its EBIT by 6.2% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. 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 China Tower's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
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. Happily for any shareholders, China Tower actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.
The good news is that China Tower's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But truth be told we feel its level of total liabilities does undermine this impression a bit. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that China Tower can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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. Be aware that China Tower is showing 1 warning sign in our investment analysis , 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.
China Tower Corporation Limited, together with its subsidiaries, provides telecommunication tower infrastructure services in the People's Republic of China.
Excellent balance sheet with proven track record.