Beijing Enterprises Holdings (HKG:392) Use Of Debt Could Be Considered Risky

September 02, 2022
  •  Updated
November 14, 2022
SEHK:392
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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.' 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. We note that Beijing Enterprises Holdings Limited (HKG:392) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

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What Is Beijing Enterprises Holdings's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Beijing Enterprises Holdings had HK$71.8b in debt in June 2022; about the same as the year before. However, it also had HK$32.0b in cash, and so its net debt is HK$39.9b.

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SEHK:392 Debt to Equity History September 2nd 2022

A Look At Beijing Enterprises Holdings' Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Beijing Enterprises Holdings had liabilities of HK$58.3b due within a year, and liabilities of HK$57.1b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of HK$32.0b as well as receivables valued at HK$9.02b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total HK$74.4b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

This deficit casts a shadow over the HK$31.7b company, like a colossus towering over mere mortals. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Beijing Enterprises 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). 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).

Beijing Enterprises Holdings's debt is 4.5 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 5.4 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. We saw Beijing Enterprises Holdings grow its EBIT by 9.9% in the last twelve months. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Beijing Enterprises Holdings can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Considering the last three years, Beijing Enterprises Holdings actually recorded a cash outflow, overall. Debt is far more risky for companies with unreliable free cash flow, so shareholders should be hoping that the past expenditure will produce free cash flow in the future.

Our View

To be frank both Beijing Enterprises Holdings's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. We should also note that Gas Utilities industry companies like Beijing Enterprises Holdings commonly do use debt without problems. We're quite clear that we consider Beijing Enterprises Holdings to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Beijing Enterprises Holdings you should be aware of.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

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