Stock Analysis

Is Elevance Health (NYSE:ELV) A Risky Investment?


Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' 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 Elevance Health, Inc. (NYSE:ELV) makes use of debt. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?

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. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. 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. 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 think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Elevance Health

How Much Debt Does Elevance Health Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of September 2023, Elevance Health had US$24.8b of debt, up from US$23.8b a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have US$38.9b in cash offsetting this, leading to net cash of US$14.1b.

NYSE:ELV Debt to Equity History January 2nd 2024

How Strong Is Elevance Health's Balance Sheet?

According to the last reported balance sheet, Elevance Health had liabilities of US$43.3b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$28.6b due beyond 12 months. On the other hand, it had cash of US$38.9b and US$16.9b worth of receivables due within a year. So it has liabilities totalling US$16.1b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Given Elevance Health has a humongous market capitalization of US$110.8b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Elevance Health boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

Elevance Health's EBIT was pretty flat over the last year, but that shouldn't be an issue given the it doesn't have a lot of debt. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Elevance Health 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. Elevance Health may have net cash on the balance sheet, but it is still interesting to look at how well the business converts its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to free cash flow, because that will influence both its need for, and its capacity to manage debt. Happily for any shareholders, Elevance Health actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. There's nothing better than incoming cash when it comes to staying in your lenders' good graces.

Summing Up

While Elevance Health does have more liabilities than liquid assets, it also has net cash of US$14.1b. And it impressed us with free cash flow of US$8.2b, being 109% of its EBIT. So is Elevance Health's debt a risk? It doesn't seem so to us. Over time, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, so if you're interested in Elevance Health, you may well want to click here to check an interactive graph of its earnings per share history.

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.

Valuation is complex, but we're helping make it simple.

Find out whether Elevance Health 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.