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Swire Pacific (HKG:19) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

Simply Wall St

Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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 Swire Pacific Limited (HKG:19) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. 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 Swire Pacific

How Much Debt Does Swire Pacific Carry?

As you can see below, Swire Pacific had HK$69.9b of debt at June 2019, down from HK$78.1b a year prior. On the flip side, it has HK$21.0b in cash leading to net debt of about HK$49.0b.

SEHK:19 Historical Debt, September 8th 2019

A Look At Swire Pacific's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Swire Pacific had liabilities of HK$36.4b falling due within a year, and liabilities of HK$75.6b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of HK$21.0b as well as receivables valued at HK$9.10b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling HK$82.0b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit is considerable relative to its very significant market capitalization of HK$105.7b, so it does suggest shareholders should keep an eye on Swire Pacific's use of debt. This suggests shareholders would heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

Swire Pacific's debt is 3.4 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 5.6 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Swire Pacific grew its EBIT by 7.9% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off 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 Swire Pacific 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 always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Swire Pacific generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 91% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Swire Pacific was the fact that it seems able to convert EBIT to free cash flow confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit to handle its total liabilities. When we consider all the factors mentioned above, we do feel a bit cautious about Swire Pacific's use of debt. While we appreciate debt can enhance returns on equity, we'd suggest that shareholders keep close watch on its debt levels, lest they increase. Given Swire Pacific has a strong balance sheet is profitable and pays a dividend, it would be good to know how fast its dividends are growing, if at all. You can find out instantly by clicking this link.

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.