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CK Hutchison Holdings (HKG:1) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

Simply Wall St

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. We can see that CK Hutchison Holdings Limited (HKG:1) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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 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. 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.

View our latest analysis for CK Hutchison Holdings

What Is CK Hutchison Holdings's Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that CK Hutchison Holdings had HK$345.1b in debt in June 2019; about the same as the year before. However, it also had HK$123.3b in cash, and so its net debt is HK$221.8b.

SEHK:1 Historical Debt, November 11th 2019

A Look At CK Hutchison Holdings's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that CK Hutchison Holdings had liabilities of HK$233.4b due within 12 months and liabilities of HK$475.2b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of HK$123.3b as well as receivables valued at HK$39.6b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling HK$545.7b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the HK$289.8b 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'd watch its balance sheet closely, without a doubt After all, CK Hutchison Holdings 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.

CK Hutchison Holdings's debt is 3.1 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.0 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. Looking on the bright side, CK Hutchison Holdings boosted its EBIT by a silky 38% in the last year. Like the milk of human kindness that sort of growth increases resilience, making the company more capable of managing 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 CK Hutchison 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, CK Hutchison Holdings produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 56% 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.

Our View

Neither CK Hutchison Holdings's ability to handle its total liabilities nor its net debt to EBITDA gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to grow its EBIT with ease. When we consider all the factors discussed, it seems to us that CK Hutchison Holdings is taking some risks with its use of debt. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. Given our hesitation about the stock, it would be good to know if CK Hutchison Holdings insiders have sold any shares recently. You click here to find out if insiders have sold recently.

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.

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.