Here's Why US Foods Holding (NYSE:USFD) Can Manage Its Debt Responsibly

US Foods Holding Corp. -0.04% Pre

US Foods Holding Corp.

USFD

50.55

50.55

-0.04%

0.00% Pre

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, US Foods Holding Corp. (NYSE:USFD) does carry debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

Check out our latest analysis for US Foods Holding

How Much Debt Does US Foods Holding Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that US Foods Holding had debt of US$4.43b at the end of September 2023, a reduction from US$4.83b over a year. On the flip side, it has US$348.0m in cash leading to net debt of about US$4.08b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:USFD Debt to Equity History December 29th 2023

How Healthy Is US Foods Holding's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that US Foods Holding had liabilities of US$3.25b due within a year, and liabilities of US$5.33b falling due after that. Offsetting this, it had US$348.0m in cash and US$2.13b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$6.10b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This deficit isn't so bad because US Foods Holding is worth a massive US$11.2b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But we definitely want to keep our eyes open to indications that its debt is bringing too much risk.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). The advantage of this approach is that we take into account both the absolute quantum of debt (with net debt to EBITDA) and the actual interest expenses associated with that debt (with its interest cover ratio).

US Foods Holding has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 3.0 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 3.1 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Looking on the bright side, US Foods Holding boosted its EBIT by a silky 75% in the last year. Like a mother's loving embrace of a newborn that sort of growth builds resilience, putting the company in a stronger position to manage its debt. 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 US Foods Holding 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.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, US Foods Holding recorded free cash flow worth 57% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

On our analysis US Foods Holding's EBIT growth rate should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For example, its interest cover makes us a little nervous about its debt. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that US Foods Holding is managing its debt quite well. Having said that, the load is sufficiently heavy that we would recommend any shareholders keep a close eye on it. 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. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for US Foods Holding that 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.

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