What: Shares of Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD) fell 11.5% in 2015, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. If stock charts were roller coasters, Buffalo Wild Wings' 2015 track would give you whiplash and a splitting headache.
So what: This is a story best understood by looking at quarterly earnings reports.
The quick-service restaurant chain's shares plunged 10% in April due to rising labor and ingredient costs, regained that entire dip and more in July as B-Dubs increased its company-owned store count by 8%, and crashed again in October due to modest same-store sales gains and continued cost increases.
Now what: Buffalo Wild Wings is nearly done with the minimum wage increases, and the price of chicken wings can't keep rising forever. In other words, the company is coming up against a less stressful environment and easier year-over-year comparisons.
Looking ahead, management expects sales to rise more than 20% in 2016 as the guest experience programs and new restaurant concepts start to pay off. Whether or not those rising sales transform into higher earnings and cash flows will be up to the various cost trends. That's largely out of B-Dubs' hands (or wings) and will affect peers and rivals as well.
And if 2016 turns out to be another tough year in chicken wing purchasing and rising wages, Buffalo Wild Wings has one of the healthiest balance sheets in the industry. With just $108 million of debt on the books, the debt to equity ratio is an attractive 16.6. Compare and contrast to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (NASDAQ:PLKI), whose debt is 175 times the company's equity. Chili's parent Brinker International (NYSE:EAT) has no equity to speak of and a staggering $1.1 billion in total debt.
Seen in a different light, Brinker's debt works out to 37% of trailing sales. Popeye's debt is 43% of that chain's annual sales. At B-Dub, that ratio stops at a comfortable 6.2%. So, if the going gets rough, this particular restaurant brand is likely to make it through some storms that could sink many of its rivals.
Anders Bylund has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Buffalo Wild Wings. The Motley Fool also recommends Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.