May 20, 2024

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 Becton, Dickinson and Company (NYSE:BDX) makes use of debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?
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. 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. Having said that, the most common situation is where a company manages its debt reasonably well – and to its own advantage. The first step when considering a company's debt levels is to consider its cash and debt together.
See our latest analysis for Becton Dickinson
The image below, which you can click on for greater detail, shows that Becton Dickinson had debt of US$16.4b at the end of June 2022, a reduction from US$17.7b over a year. However, it also had US$2.57b in cash, and so its net debt is US$13.8b.
According to the last reported balance sheet, Becton Dickinson had liabilities of US$7.08b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$20.6b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting this, it had US$2.57b in cash and US$2.22b in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$22.9b.
Becton Dickinson has a very large market capitalization of US$67.6b, so it could very likely raise cash to ameliorate its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.
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.
Becton Dickinson has net debt to EBITDA of 2.5 suggesting it uses a fair bit of leverage to boost returns. But the high interest coverage of 8.1 suggests it can easily service that debt. Importantly Becton Dickinson's EBIT was essentially flat over the last twelve months. Ideally it can diminish its debt load by kick-starting earnings growth. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Becton Dickinson's ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you're focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Becton Dickinson generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 93% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Becton Dickinson's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14's goalkeeper. 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 Becton Dickinson commonly do use debt without problems. Looking at all the aforementioned factors together, it strikes us that Becton Dickinson can handle its debt fairly comfortably. On the plus side, this leverage can boost shareholder returns, but the potential downside is more risk of loss, so it's worth monitoring the balance sheet. 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 example Becton Dickinson has 2 warning signs (and 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) we think you should know about.
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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.
Find out whether Becton Dickinson 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.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
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Becton, Dickinson and Company 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.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Good value average dividend payer.
Simply Wall St's Editorial Team provides unbiased, factual reporting on global stocks using in-depth fundamental analysis.
Find out more about our editorial guidelines and team.
Becton, Dickinson and Company 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.
The Snowflake is a visual investment summary with the score of each axis being calculated by 6 checks in 5 areas.
Read more about these checks in the individual report sections or in our analysis model.
Good value average dividend payer.
Simply Wall Street Pty Ltd (ACN 600 056 611), is a Corporate Authorised Representative (Authorised Representative Number: 467183) of Sanlam Private Wealth Pty Ltd (AFSL No. 337927). Any advice contained in this website is general advice only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should not rely on any advice and/or information contained in this website and before making any investment decision we recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your situation and seek appropriate financial, taxation and legal advice. Please read our Financial Services Guide before deciding whether to obtain financial services from us.

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