Stock Analysis

Does CSL (ASX:CSL) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

ASX:CSL
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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 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. As with many other companies CSL Limited (ASX:CSL) makes use of debt. 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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

See our latest analysis for CSL

What Is CSL's Net Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of December 2022, CSL had US$10.7b of debt, up from US$4.38b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$1.51b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$9.17b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:CSL Debt to Equity History March 1st 2023

How Strong Is CSL's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that CSL had liabilities of US$4.33b due within a year, and liabilities of US$13.2b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.51b as well as receivables valued at US$3.03b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$13.0b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Of course, CSL has a titanic market capitalization of US$96.2b, so these liabilities are probably manageable. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time.

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). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.

CSL has a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.7, which signals significant debt, but is still pretty reasonable for most types of business. However, its interest coverage of 11.7 is very high, suggesting that the interest expense on the debt is currently quite low. Importantly CSL's EBIT was essentially flat over the last twelve months. Ideally it can diminish its debt load by kick-starting earnings growth. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if CSL can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. In the last three years, CSL's free cash flow amounted to 43% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That's not great, when it comes to paying down debt.

Our View

On our analysis CSL's interest cover should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. However, our other observations weren't so heartening. For instance it seems like it has to struggle a bit handle its debt, based on its EBITDA,. Considering this range of data points, we think CSL 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. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for CSL that you should be aware of before investing here.

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 CSL 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.