Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That Flowers Foods (NYSE:FLO) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

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NYSE:FLO
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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.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. As with many other companies Flowers Foods, Inc. (NYSE:FLO) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

What Risk Does Debt Bring?

Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

View our latest analysis for Flowers Foods

How Much Debt Does Flowers Foods Carry?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at October 2023 Flowers Foods had debt of US$1.05b, up from US$907.9m in one year. And it doesn't have much cash, so its net debt is about the same.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:FLO Debt to Equity History January 3rd 2024

How Strong Is Flowers Foods' Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Flowers Foods had liabilities of US$669.9m due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$1.39b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$14.6m and US$398.2m worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$1.65b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

While this might seem like a lot, it is not so bad since Flowers Foods has a market capitalization of US$4.85b, and so it could probably strengthen its balance sheet by raising capital if it needed to. 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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Flowers Foods's net debt to EBITDA ratio of about 2.1 suggests only moderate use of debt. And its commanding EBIT of 28.9 times its interest expense, implies the debt load is as light as a peacock feather. Importantly Flowers Foods's EBIT was essentially flat over the last twelve months. We would prefer to see some earnings growth, because that always helps diminish debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Flowers Foods'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.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So it's worth checking how much of that EBIT is backed by free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Flowers Foods recorded free cash flow worth 55% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.

Our View

When it comes to the balance sheet, the standout positive for Flowers Foods was the fact that it seems able to cover its interest expense with its EBIT confidently. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its level of total liabilities makes us a little nervous about its debt. Considering this range of data points, we think Flowers Foods is in a good position to manage its debt levels. 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. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. To that end, you should learn about the 4 warning signs we've spotted with Flowers Foods (including 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) .

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 Flowers Foods 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.