Stock Analysis

We Think Jardine Matheson Holdings (SGX:J36) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

SGX:J36
Source: Shutterstock

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. We note that Jardine Matheson Holdings Limited (SGX:J36) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Jardine Matheson Holdings

How Much Debt Does Jardine Matheson Holdings Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Jardine Matheson Holdings had US$15.8b of debt in June 2023, down from US$16.6b, one year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$5.59b, its net debt is less, at about US$10.2b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SGX:J36 Debt to Equity History September 11th 2023

A Look At Jardine Matheson Holdings' Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Jardine Matheson Holdings had liabilities of US$17.5b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$15.2b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$5.59b as well as receivables valued at US$7.38b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$19.8b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's huge US$13.6b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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).

Jardine Matheson Holdings's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.0 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 11.0 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Unfortunately, Jardine Matheson Holdings's EBIT flopped 18% over the last four quarters. If earnings continue to decline at that rate then handling the debt will be more difficult than taking three children under 5 to a fancy pants restaurant. 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 Jardine Matheson Holdings can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Jardine Matheson Holdings 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.

Our View

On the face of it, Jardine Matheson Holdings's level of total liabilities left us tentative about the stock, and its EBIT growth rate 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. Looking at the balance sheet and taking into account all these factors, we do believe that debt is making Jardine Matheson Holdings stock a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Jardine Matheson Holdings 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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Jardine Matheson Holdings is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.

View the Free Analysis

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.

About SGX:J36

Jardine Matheson Holdings

Through its subsidiaries, operates in motor vehicles and related operations, property investment and development, food retailing, health and beauty, home furnishings, engineering and construction, and transport businesses in China, Southeast Asia, and internationally.

Excellent balance sheet established dividend payer.