Stock Analysis

Puxing Energy (HKG:90) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

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SEHK:90
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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.' 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 Puxing Energy Limited (HKG:90) 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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. 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 step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

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How Much Debt Does Puxing Energy Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2021 Puxing Energy had debt of CN¥795.6m, up from CN¥522.8m in one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of CN¥107.9m, its net debt is less, at about CN¥687.7m.

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SEHK:90 Debt to Equity History December 1st 2021

A Look At Puxing Energy's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Puxing Energy had liabilities of CN¥483.4m due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥719.2m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of CN¥107.9m and CN¥42.5m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling CN¥1.05b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CN¥304.2m 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 definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Puxing Energy would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Puxing Energy has net debt worth 2.4 times EBITDA, which isn't too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 3.8 times the interest expense. While that doesn't worry us too much, it does suggest the interest payments are somewhat of a burden. Unfortunately, Puxing Energy's EBIT flopped 15% over the last four quarters. If that sort of decline is not arrested, then the managing its debt will be harder than selling broccoli flavoured ice-cream for a premium. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But you can't view debt in total isolation; since Puxing Energy will need earnings to service that debt. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

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. Over the last three years, Puxing Energy recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 97% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

On the face of it, Puxing Energy'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 on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Overall, we think it's fair to say that Puxing Energy has enough debt that there are some real risks around the balance sheet. If all goes well, that should boost returns, but on the flip side, the risk of permanent capital loss is elevated by the debt. 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 Puxing Energy is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis , you should know about...

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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