Stock Analysis

Is Noodles (NASDAQ:NDLS) A Risky Investment?

NasdaqGS:NDLS
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Warren Buffett famously said, 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. We can see that Noodles & Company (NASDAQ:NDLS) does use debt in its business. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt assists a business until the business has trouble paying it off, either with new capital or with free cash flow. 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. 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.

View our latest analysis for Noodles

What Is Noodles's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of July 2023, Noodles had US$63.2m of debt, up from US$31.1m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. On the flip side, it has US$3.14m in cash leading to net debt of about US$60.1m.

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NasdaqGS:NDLS Debt to Equity History August 16th 2023

How Healthy Is Noodles' Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Noodles had liabilities of US$64.5m due within 12 months and liabilities of US$257.0m due beyond that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$3.14m and US$5.23m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$313.1m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the US$136.0m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. At the end of the day, Noodles would probably need a major re-capitalization if its creditors were to demand repayment.

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).

Even though Noodles's debt is only 1.9, its interest cover is really very low at 1.9. In large part that's it has so much depreciation and amortisation. These charges may be non-cash, so they could be excluded when it comes to paying down debt. But the accounting charges are there for a reason -- some assets are seen to be losing value. In any case, it's safe to say the company has meaningful debt. Importantly, Noodles grew its EBIT by 70% over the last twelve months, and that growth will make it easier to handle its debt. 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 Noodles'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.

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 that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the last three years, Noodles saw substantial negative free cash flow, in total. While investors are no doubt expecting a reversal of that situation in due course, it clearly does mean its use of debt is more risky.

Our View

On the face of it, Noodles's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow left us tentative about the stock, and its level of total liabilities was no more enticing than the one empty restaurant on the busiest night of the year. But at least it's pretty decent at growing its EBIT; that's encouraging. Overall, it seems to us that Noodles's balance sheet is really quite a risk to the business. So we're almost as wary of this stock as a hungry kitten is about falling into its owner's fish pond: once bitten, twice shy, as they say. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. To that end, you should learn about the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Noodles (including 1 which is a bit unpleasant) .

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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

Find out whether Noodles 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.