David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. Importantly, Canvest Environmental Protection Group Company Limited (HKG:1381) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
When Is Debt Dangerous?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does Canvest Environmental Protection Group Carry?
As you can see below, at the end of December 2021, Canvest Environmental Protection Group had HK$12.7b of debt, up from HK$9.18b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have HK$1.73b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about HK$11.0b.
A Look At Canvest Environmental Protection Group's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Canvest Environmental Protection Group had liabilities of HK$3.18b due within 12 months, and liabilities of HK$12.4b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of HK$1.73b as well as receivables valued at HK$2.21b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total HK$11.6b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
Given this deficit is actually higher than the company's market capitalization of HK$8.93b, we think shareholders really should watch Canvest Environmental Protection Group's debt levels, like a parent watching their child ride a bike for the first time. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.
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.
Canvest Environmental Protection Group's debt is 4.8 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.4 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Also relevant is that Canvest Environmental Protection Group has grown its EBIT by a very respectable 28% in the last year, thus enhancing its ability to pay down debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Canvest Environmental Protection Group'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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. During the last three years, Canvest Environmental Protection Group burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.
On the face of it, Canvest Environmental Protection Group's level of total liabilities left us tentative about the stock, and its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. Overall, it seems to us that Canvest Environmental Protection Group'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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Canvest Environmental Protection Group (1 is concerning) you should be aware of.
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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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.