July 18, 2024

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 note that China Tobacco International (HK) Company Limited (HKG:6055) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. 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. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
View our latest analysis for China Tobacco International (HK)
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at June 2022 China Tobacco International (HK) had debt of HK$2.08b, up from none in one year. However, it also had HK$2.02b in cash, and so its net debt is HK$60.3m.
According to the last reported balance sheet, China Tobacco International (HK) had liabilities of HK$4.02b due within 12 months, and liabilities of HK$87.4m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had HK$2.02b in cash and HK$1.20b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling HK$886.4m more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded China Tobacco International (HK) shares are worth a total of HK$6.08b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse. But either way, China Tobacco International (HK) has virtually no net debt, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
China Tobacco International (HK) has a low net debt to EBITDA ratio of only 0.10. And its EBIT easily covers its interest expense, being 17.3 times the size. So you could argue it is no more threatened by its debt than an elephant is by a mouse. Better yet, China Tobacco International (HK) grew its EBIT by 266% last year, which is an impressive improvement. That boost will make it even easier to pay down debt going forward. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine China Tobacco International (HK)'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. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, China Tobacco International (HK) 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.
China Tobacco International (HK)'s interest cover suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. But the stark truth is that we are concerned by its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that China Tobacco International (HK) can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet – far from it. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for China Tobacco International (HK) that you should be aware of before investing here.
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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.
Find out whether China Tobacco International (HK) is potentially over or undervalued by checking out our comprehensive analysis, which includes fair value estimates, risks and warnings, dividends, insider transactions and financial health.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
China Tobacco International (HK) Company Limited engages in the trade of tobacco products.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Adequate balance sheet with moderate growth potential.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
China Tobacco International (HK) Company Limited engages in the trade of tobacco products.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Adequate balance sheet with moderate growth potential.
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