Stock Analysis

We Think Chefs' Warehouse (NASDAQ:CHEF) Has A Fair Chunk Of Debt

NasdaqGS:CHEF
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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.' 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 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?

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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well - and to its own advantage. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

View our latest analysis for Chefs' Warehouse

How Much Debt Does Chefs' Warehouse Carry?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Chefs' Warehouse had US$386.1m of debt in March 2021, down from US$483.6m, one year before. On the flip side, it has US$175.0m in cash leading to net debt of about US$211.1m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:CHEF Debt to Equity History July 29th 2021

A Look At Chefs' Warehouse's Liabilities

The latest balance sheet data shows that Chefs' Warehouse had liabilities of US$129.8m due within a year, and liabilities of US$504.7m falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$175.0m as well as receivables valued at US$99.5m due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$360.1m.

Chefs' Warehouse has a market capitalization of US$1.13b, 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. 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.

In the last year Chefs' Warehouse had a loss before interest and tax, and actually shrunk its revenue by 37%, to US$1.0b. That makes us nervous, to say the least.

Caveat Emptor

Not only did Chefs' Warehouse's revenue slip over the last twelve months, but it also produced negative earnings before interest and tax (EBIT). To be specific the EBIT loss came in at US$72m. Considering that alongside the liabilities mentioned above does not give us much confidence that company should be using so much debt. So we think its balance sheet is a little strained, though not beyond repair. We would feel better if it turned its trailing twelve month loss of US$87m into a profit. So we do think this stock is quite risky. 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. We've identified 2 warning signs with Chefs' Warehouse (at least 1 which shouldn't be ignored) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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