The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says ‘The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.’ 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 China Yuchai International Limited (NYSE:CYD) makes use of debt. 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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. When we think about a company’s use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does China Yuchai International Carry?
The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that China Yuchai International had CN¥2.20b in debt in December 2021; about the same as the year before. However, its balance sheet shows it holds CN¥5.15b in cash, so it actually has CN¥2.94b net cash.
How Strong Is China Yuchai International’s Balance Sheet?
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that China Yuchai International had liabilities of CN¥12.6b falling due within a year, and liabilities of CN¥848.5m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥5.15b in cash and CN¥7.43b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by CN¥913.9m.
This deficit isn’t so bad because China Yuchai International is worth CN¥2.79b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it’s clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, China Yuchai International boasts net cash, so it’s fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
It is just as well that China Yuchai International’s load is not too heavy, because its EBIT was down 49% over the last year. When a company sees its earnings tank, it can sometimes find its relationships with its lenders turn sour. 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 China Yuchai International can strengthen its balance sheet over time.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. China Yuchai International 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. Over the last three years, China Yuchai International reported free cash flow worth 19% of its EBIT, which is really quite low. That limp level of cash conversion undermines its ability to manage and pay down debt.
Although China Yuchai International’s balance sheet isn’t particularly strong, due to the total liabilities, it is clearly positive to see that it has net cash of CN¥2.94b. So while China Yuchai International does not have a great balance sheet, it’s certainly not too bad.