Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That CSL (ASX:CSL) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

ASX:CSL
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Some say volatility, rather than debt, is the best way to think about risk as an investor, but Warren Buffett famously said that 'Volatility is far from synonymous with risk.' 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. We note that CSL Limited (ASX:CSL) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. 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, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

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What Is CSL's Debt?

As you can see below, at the end of June 2023, CSL had US$10.5b of debt, up from US$8.27b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it also had US$1.55b in cash, and so its net debt is US$8.98b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
ASX:CSL Debt to Equity History September 11th 2023

A Look At CSL's Liabilities

According to the last reported balance sheet, CSL had liabilities of US$4.61b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$13.8b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$1.55b in cash and US$1.94b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$14.9b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given CSL has a humongous market capitalization of US$83.4b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. Having said that, it's clear that we should continue to monitor its balance sheet, lest it change for the worse.

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). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

With a debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.3, CSL uses debt artfully but responsibly. And the alluring interest cover (EBIT of 8.7 times interest expense) certainly does not do anything to dispel this impression. If CSL can keep growing EBIT at last year's rate of 11% over the last year, then it will find its debt load easier to manage. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if CSL can strengthen its balance sheet over time. 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 business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. 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 46% of its EBIT, less than we'd expect. That weak cash conversion makes it more difficult to handle indebtedness.

Our View

Both CSL's ability to to cover its interest expense with its EBIT and its EBIT growth rate gave us comfort that it can handle its debt. Having said that, its net debt to EBITDA somewhat sensitizes us to potential future risks to the balance sheet. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that CSL is managing its debt quite well. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. 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 instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for CSL that you should be aware of.

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.