Stock Analysis

Does Chefs' Warehouse (NASDAQ:CHEF) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

NasdaqGS:CHEF
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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.' 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. Importantly, The Chefs' Warehouse, Inc. (NASDAQ:CHEF) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for Chefs' Warehouse

How Much Debt Does Chefs' Warehouse Carry?

As you can see below, Chefs' Warehouse had US$387.7m of debt, at December 2021, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have US$115.2m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$272.5m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:CHEF Debt to Equity History April 18th 2022

A Look At Chefs' Warehouse's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Chefs' Warehouse had liabilities of US$197.0m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$526.6m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had US$115.2m in cash and US$195.2m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$413.2m.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Chefs' Warehouse has a market capitalization of US$1.27b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

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.

Chefs' Warehouse shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (6.9), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.61 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. However, the silver lining was that Chefs' Warehouse achieved a positive EBIT of US$11m in the last twelve months, an improvement on the prior year's loss. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Chefs' Warehouse's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it is important to check how much of its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) converts to actual free cash flow. During the last year, Chefs' Warehouse burned a lot of cash. While that may be a result of expenditure for growth, it does make the debt far more risky.

Our View

To be frank both Chefs' Warehouse's interest cover and its track record of converting EBIT to free cash flow make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least its EBIT growth rate is not so bad. We're quite clear that we consider Chefs' Warehouse to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. In light of our reservations about the company's balance sheet, it seems sensible to check if insiders have been selling shares recently.

If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Chefs' Warehouse 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.

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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.