Stock Analysis

Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) Seems To Use Debt Quite Sensibly

NYSE:BSX
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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.' So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. We note that Boston Scientific Corporation (NYSE:BSX) does have debt on its balance sheet. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. However, a more common (but still painful) scenario is that it has to raise new equity capital at a low price, thus permanently diluting shareholders. Of course, the upside of debt is that it often represents cheap capital, especially when it replaces dilution in a company with the ability to reinvest at high rates of return. When we think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

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How Much Debt Does Boston Scientific Carry?

As you can see below, Boston Scientific had US$9.00b of debt, at March 2023, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, because it has a cash reserve of US$570.0m, its net debt is less, at about US$8.43b.

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NYSE:BSX Debt to Equity History July 25th 2023

How Healthy Is Boston Scientific's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Boston Scientific had liabilities of US$4.08b due within a year, and liabilities of US$10.7b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$570.0m and US$2.08b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$12.1b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given Boston Scientific has a humongous market capitalization of US$75.0b, 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.

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

Boston Scientific has net debt to EBITDA of 2.6 suggesting it uses a fair bit of leverage to boost returns. But the high interest coverage of 8.7 suggests it can easily service that debt. We saw Boston Scientific grow its EBIT by 10.0% 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 Boston Scientific 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.

But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Boston Scientific recorded free cash flow worth 73% 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

The good news is that Boston Scientific's demonstrated ability to convert EBIT to free cash flow delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. But, on a more sombre note, we are a little concerned by its net debt to EBITDA. We would also note that Medical Equipment industry companies like Boston Scientific commonly do use debt without problems. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Boston Scientific is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. 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. We've identified 3 warning signs with Boston Scientific (at least 1 which is significant) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

If, after all that, you're more interested in a fast growing company with a rock-solid balance sheet, then check out our list of net cash growth stocks without delay.

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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.