Does Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE:TMO) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 12, 2022
NYSE:TMO
Source: Shutterstock

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.' When we think about how risky a company is, we always like to look at its use of debt, since debt overload can lead to ruin. As with many other companies Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. (NYSE:TMO) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Thermo Fisher Scientific

What Is Thermo Fisher Scientific's Debt?

The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that at December 2021 Thermo Fisher Scientific had debt of US$34.7b, up from US$21.8b in one year. However, it does have US$4.48b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$30.2b.

debt-equity-history-analysis
NYSE:TMO Debt to Equity History April 12th 2022

How Strong Is Thermo Fisher Scientific's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Thermo Fisher Scientific had liabilities of US$13.4b due within a year, and liabilities of US$40.7b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$4.48b as well as receivables valued at US$8.95b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$40.7b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.

Of course, Thermo Fisher Scientific has a titanic market capitalization of US$229.3b, 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.

We'd say that Thermo Fisher Scientific's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 2.4), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its strong interest cover of 20.7 times, makes us even more comfortable. We note that Thermo Fisher Scientific grew its EBIT by 30% in the last year, and that should make it easier to pay down debt, going forward. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Thermo Fisher Scientific 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, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, Thermo Fisher Scientific recorded free cash flow worth 79% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

The good news is that Thermo Fisher Scientific's demonstrated ability to cover its interest expense with its EBIT delights us like a fluffy puppy does a toddler. And that's just the beginning of the good news since its EBIT growth rate is also very heartening. Looking at the bigger picture, we think Thermo Fisher Scientific's use of debt seems quite reasonable and we're not concerned about it. After all, sensible leverage can boost returns on equity. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Thermo Fisher Scientific you should be aware of.

When all is said and done, sometimes its easier to focus on companies that don't even need debt. Readers can access a list of growth stocks with zero net debt 100% free, right now.

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