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Anton Oilfield Services Group (HKG:3337) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Anton Oilfield Services Group (HKG:3337) makes use of debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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 frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Anton Oilfield Services Group

How Much Debt Does Anton Oilfield Services Group Carry?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Anton Oilfield Services Group had CN¥3.27b in debt in December 2018; about the same as the year before. However, because it has a cash reserve of CN¥686.6m, its net debt is less, at about CN¥2.58b.

SEHK:3337 Historical Debt, August 19th 2019

A Look At Anton Oilfield Services Group's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Anton Oilfield Services Group had liabilities of CN¥2.25b due within 12 months and liabilities of CN¥2.31b due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥686.6m in cash and CN¥2.31b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥1.55b.

This deficit is considerable relative to its market capitalization of CN¥2.05b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Anton Oilfield Services Group's use of debt. Should its lenders demand that it shore up the balance sheet, shareholders would likely face severe 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.

While we wouldn't worry about Anton Oilfield Services Group's net debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.7, we think its super-low interest cover of 2.3 times is a sign of high leverage. So shareholders should probably be aware that interest expenses appear to have really impacted the business lately. The good news is that Anton Oilfield Services Group grew its EBIT a smooth 40% over the last twelve months. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing 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 Anton Oilfield Services 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.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Anton Oilfield Services Group saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

We'd go so far as to say Anton Oilfield Services Group's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was disappointing. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that Anton Oilfield Services Group's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if Anton Oilfield Services Group insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.

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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.