Stock Analysis

Performance Food Group (NYSE:PFGC) Takes On Some Risk With Its Use Of Debt

NYSE:PFGC
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Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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, Performance Food Group Company (NYSE:PFGC) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Performance Food Group

What Is Performance Food Group's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Performance Food Group had US$3.53b of debt at April 2023, down from US$3.72b a year prior. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

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NYSE:PFGC Debt to Equity History August 9th 2023

A Look At Performance Food Group's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Performance Food Group had liabilities of US$3.46b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$5.15b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$8.20m as well as receivables valued at US$2.35b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$6.25b.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$9.17b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

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.

Performance Food Group's debt is 3.1 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 3.1 times over. This suggests that while the debt levels are significant, we'd stop short of calling them problematic. The silver lining is that Performance Food Group grew its EBIT by 125% last year, which nourishing like the idealism of youth. If it can keep walking that path it will be in a position to shed its debt with relative ease. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Performance Food Group can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. In the last two years, Performance Food Group's free cash flow amounted to 38% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

Neither Performance Food Group's ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT nor its level of total liabilities gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But its EBIT growth rate tells a very different story, and suggests some resilience. We think that Performance Food Group'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. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For instance, we've identified 1 warning sign for Performance Food Group that you should be aware of.

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 Performance Food Group 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.