Stock Analysis

Would Chefs' Warehouse (NASDAQ:CHEF) Be Better Off With Less Debt?

NasdaqGS:CHEF
Source: Shutterstock

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.' 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. As with many other companies The Chefs' Warehouse, Inc. (NASDAQ:CHEF) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. 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?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Chefs' Warehouse had US$386.3m in debt in September 2021; about the same as the year before. However, it also had US$134.2m in cash, and so its net debt is US$252.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NasdaqGS:CHEF Debt to Equity History December 24th 2021

How Healthy Is Chefs' Warehouse's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Chefs' Warehouse had liabilities of US$183.9m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$509.0m due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$134.2m in cash and US$153.1m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$405.6m.

Chefs' Warehouse has a market capitalization of US$1.23b, 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 wasn't profitable at an EBIT level, but managed to grow its revenue by 17%, to US$1.5b. We usually like to see faster growth from unprofitable companies, but each to their own.

Caveat Emptor

Over the last twelve months Chefs' Warehouse produced an earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) loss. To be specific the EBIT loss came in at US$25m. When we look at that and recall the liabilities on its balance sheet, relative to cash, it seems unwise to us for the company to have any debt. So we think its balance sheet is a little strained, though not beyond repair. However, it doesn't help that it burned through US$57m of cash over the last year. So suffice it to say we do consider the stock to be risky. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 1 warning sign with Chefs' Warehouse , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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.

View the Free Analysis

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.