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.' So it seems the smart money knows that debt - which is usually involved in bankruptcies - is a very important factor, when you assess how risky a company is. We can see that Sinofert Holdings Limited (HKG:297) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.
What Risk Does Debt Bring?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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. 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.
Check out our latest analysis for Sinofert Holdings
How Much Debt Does Sinofert Holdings Carry?
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Sinofert Holdings had debt of CN¥1.04b at the end of December 2021, a reduction from CN¥1.71b over a year. But on the other hand it also has CN¥1.32b in cash, leading to a CN¥275.4m net cash position.
How Healthy Is Sinofert Holdings' Balance Sheet?
According to the last reported balance sheet, Sinofert Holdings had liabilities of CN¥7.16b due within 12 months, and liabilities of CN¥1.35b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of CN¥1.32b as well as receivables valued at CN¥1.56b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CN¥5.64b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of CN¥7.98b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry. While it does have liabilities worth noting, Sinofert Holdings also has more cash than debt, so we're pretty confident it can manage its debt safely.
Also good is that Sinofert Holdings grew its EBIT at 17% over the last year, further increasing its ability to manage 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 Sinofert Holdings'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. Sinofert Holdings may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. During the last three years, Sinofert Holdings produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 59% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
While Sinofert Holdings does have more liabilities than liquid assets, it also has net cash of CN¥275.4m. And we liked the look of last year's 17% year-on-year EBIT growth. So we are not troubled with Sinofert Holdings's debt use. 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. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Sinofert Holdings .
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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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.