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Does Conagra Brands (NYSE:CAG) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?
David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the 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. We note that Conagra Brands, Inc. (NYSE:CAG) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
View our latest analysis for Conagra Brands
What Is Conagra Brands's Net Debt?
As you can see below, Conagra Brands had US$8.87b of debt at May 2021, down from US$9.59b a year prior. Net debt is about the same, since the it doesn't have much cash.
How Strong Is Conagra Brands' Balance Sheet?
Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Conagra Brands had liabilities of US$3.31b due within 12 months and liabilities of US$10.3b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$79.2m as well as receivables valued at US$793.9m due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$12.7b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This is a mountain of leverage even relative to its gargantuan market capitalization of US$16.1b. 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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
Conagra Brands's debt is 3.7 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.8 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. One way Conagra Brands could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 13%, as it did over the last year. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Conagra Brands'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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. During the last three years, Conagra Brands produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 63% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
While Conagra Brands's net debt to EBITDA does give us pause, its conversion of EBIT to free cash flow and EBIT growth rate suggest it can stay on top of its debt load. Looking at all the angles mentioned above, it does seem to us that Conagra Brands is a somewhat risky investment as a result of its debt. 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. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Conagra Brands you should be aware of, and 1 of them is potentially serious.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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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.
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Conagra Brands, Inc., together with its subsidiaries, operates as a consumer packaged goods food company in North America.
Undervalued average dividend payer.