Stock Analysis

SpartanNash (NASDAQ:SPTN) Has A Somewhat Strained Balance Sheet

NasdaqGS:SPTN
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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.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, SpartanNash Company (NASDAQ:SPTN) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

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. 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. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for SpartanNash

What Is SpartanNash's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that as of October 2022 SpartanNash had US$519.5m of debt, an increase on US$404.1m, over one year. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$19.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$500.5m.

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NasdaqGS:SPTN Debt to Equity History February 21st 2023

A Look At SpartanNash's Liabilities

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that SpartanNash had liabilities of US$702.6m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$858.4m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$19.0m and US$430.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.11b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

This is a mountain of leverage relative to its market capitalization of US$1.13b. This suggests shareholders would be heavily diluted if the company needed to shore up its balance sheet in a hurry.

In order to size up a company's debt relative to its earnings, we calculate its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) divided by its interest expense (its interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

SpartanNash has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.6 and its EBIT covered its interest expense 5.4 times. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Unfortunately, SpartanNash saw its EBIT slide 7.9% in the last twelve months. If that earnings trend continues then its debt load will grow heavy like the heart of a polar bear watching its sole cub. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine SpartanNash's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

Finally, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, SpartanNash recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 87% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

Neither SpartanNash's ability to handle its total liabilities nor its EBIT growth rate gave us confidence in its ability to take on more debt. But the good news is it seems to be able to convert EBIT to free cash flow with ease. Taking the abovementioned factors together we do think SpartanNash's debt poses some risks to the business. While that debt can boost returns, we think the company has enough leverage now. 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. We've identified 2 warning signs with SpartanNash (at least 1 which makes us a bit uncomfortable) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether SpartanNash 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.