Stock Analysis

Middleby (NASDAQ:MIDD) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

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NasdaqGS:MIDD
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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. We can see that The Middleby Corporation (NASDAQ:MIDD) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

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What Is Middleby's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Middleby had debt of US$1.81b at the end of September 2020, a reduction from US$1.99b over a year. On the flip side, it has US$220.3m in cash leading to net debt of about US$1.59b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:MIDD Debt to Equity History January 12th 2021

How Strong Is Middleby's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Middleby had liabilities of US$597.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$2.39b due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$220.3m and US$402.6m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$2.37b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Middleby has a market capitalization of US$7.65b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate 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.

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.

Middleby's debt is 3.1 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 5.4 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. Shareholders should be aware that Middleby's EBIT was down 26% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Middleby'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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Middleby recorded free cash flow worth 72% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

Middleby's EBIT growth rate was a real negative on this analysis, although the other factors we considered cast it in a significantly better light. For example its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was refreshing. We think that Middleby's debt does make it a bit risky, after considering the aforementioned data points together. Not all risk is bad, as it can boost share price returns if it pays off, but this debt risk is worth keeping in mind. 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 instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Middleby that you should be aware of.

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.

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