Stock Analysis

Here's Why Chefs' Warehouse (NASDAQ:CHEF) Has A Meaningful Debt Burden

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. We note that The Chefs' Warehouse, Inc. (NASDAQ:CHEF) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Chefs' Warehouse

What Is Chefs' Warehouse's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Chefs' Warehouse had US$387.6m of debt, at June 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. On the flip side, it has US$51.8m in cash leading to net debt of about US$335.8m.

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NasdaqGS:CHEF Debt to Equity History August 2nd 2022

How Healthy Is Chefs' Warehouse's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Chefs' Warehouse had liabilities of US$230.9m due within a year, and liabilities of US$532.3m falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$51.8m and US$208.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$503.2m.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Chefs' Warehouse has a market capitalization of US$1.36b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.

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.

Chefs' Warehouse has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.5 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 3.7 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. One redeeming factor for Chefs' Warehouse is that it turned last year's EBIT loss into a gain of US$65m, over the last twelve months. 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 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. 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

We'd go so far as to say Chefs' Warehouse's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow was disappointing. Having said that, its ability to grow its EBIT isn't such a worry. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that Chefs' Warehouse's debt is making it a bit risky. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we'd generally feel more comfortable with less leverage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Chefs' Warehouse 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.

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

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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.