We Think Aramark (NYSE:ARMK) Is Taking Some Risk With Its Debt

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 21, 2021
NYSE:ARMK
Source: Shutterstock

The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a 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, Aramark (NYSE:ARMK) does carry debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

When Is Debt Dangerous?

Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. 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.

See our latest analysis for Aramark

What Is Aramark's Debt?

As you can see below, Aramark had US$7.37b of debt at October 2021, down from US$9.25b a year prior. On the flip side, it has US$532.6m in cash leading to net debt of about US$6.84b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:ARMK Debt to Equity History December 21st 2021

How Healthy Is Aramark's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Aramark had liabilities of US$2.86b due within a year, and liabilities of US$8.79b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$532.6m as well as receivables valued at US$1.77b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$9.34b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

When you consider that this deficiency exceeds the company's US$8.55b market capitalization, you might well be inclined to review the balance sheet intently. In the scenario where the company had to clean up its balance sheet quickly, it seems likely shareholders would suffer extensive dilution.

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.

Aramark shareholders face the double whammy of a high net debt to EBITDA ratio (9.2), and fairly weak interest coverage, since EBIT is just 0.48 times the interest expense. The debt burden here is substantial. One redeeming factor for Aramark is that it turned last year's EBIT loss into a gain of US$191m, over the last twelve months. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Aramark 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 it's worth checking how much of the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) is backed by free cash flow. Over the last year, Aramark actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT. That sort of strong cash conversion gets us as excited as the crowd when the beat drops at a Daft Punk concert.

Our View

To be frank both Aramark's net debt to EBITDA and its track record of covering its interest expense with its EBIT make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But on the bright side, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow is a good sign, and makes us more optimistic. Once we consider all the factors above, together, it seems to us that Aramark'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. 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. These risks can be hard to spot. Every company has them, and we've spotted 1 warning sign for Aramark you should know about.

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.

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