Stock Analysis

These 4 Measures Indicate That Becton Dickinson (NYSE:BDX) Is Using Debt Reasonably Well

NYSE:BDX
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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.' 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 can see that Becton, Dickinson and Company (NYSE:BDX) does use debt in its business. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

When Is Debt A Problem?

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. However, a more usual (but still expensive) situation is where a company must dilute shareholders at a cheap share price simply to get debt under control. By replacing dilution, though, debt can be an extremely good tool for businesses that need capital to invest in growth at high rates of return. When we examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.

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What Is Becton Dickinson's Net Debt?

The chart below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Becton Dickinson had US$15.9b in debt in September 2023; about the same as the year before. On the flip side, it has US$1.42b in cash leading to net debt of about US$14.5b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:BDX Debt to Equity History February 1st 2024

A Look At Becton Dickinson's Liabilities

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Becton Dickinson had liabilities of US$6.64b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$20.3b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$1.42b as well as receivables valued at US$2.53b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$23.0b.

Becton Dickinson has a very large market capitalization of US$68.4b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. 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.

Becton Dickinson's debt is 2.9 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 6.8 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. We saw Becton Dickinson grow its EBIT by 4.4% in the last twelve months. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. 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 Becton Dickinson 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 company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Over the last three years, Becton Dickinson recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 88% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.

Our View

The good news is that Becton Dickinson's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But truth be told we feel its net debt to EBITDA does undermine this impression a bit. We would also note that Medical Equipment industry companies like Becton Dickinson commonly do use debt without problems. All these things considered, it appears that Becton Dickinson can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it's worth keeping an eye on this one. 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. For instance, we've identified 2 warning signs for Becton Dickinson (1 is potentially serious) you should be aware of.

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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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.

About NYSE:BDX

Becton Dickinson

Develops, manufactures, and sells medical supplies, devices, laboratory equipment, and diagnostic products for healthcare institutions, physicians, life science researchers, clinical laboratories, pharmaceutical industry, and the general public worldwide.

Established dividend payer with adequate balance sheet.