December 4, 2022

The external fund manager backed by Berkshire Hathaway's Charlie Munger, Li Lu, makes no bones about it when he says 'The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital.' 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. We note that Medtronic plc (NYSE:MDT) does have debt on its balance sheet. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
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. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. 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. Of course, plenty of companies use debt to fund growth, without any negative consequences. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
View our latest analysis for Medtronic
As you can see below, Medtronic had US$23.2b of debt at July 2022, down from US$25.9b a year prior. However, it does have US$8.87b in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about US$14.3b.
The latest balance sheet data shows that Medtronic had liabilities of US$14.0b due within a year, and liabilities of US$23.0b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$8.87b and US$5.31b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities total US$22.9b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.
This deficit isn't so bad because Medtronic is worth a massive US$107.3b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it's clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.
We'd say that Medtronic's moderate net debt to EBITDA ratio ( being 1.6), indicates prudence when it comes to debt. And its strong interest cover of 10.7 times, makes us even more comfortable. But the other side of the story is that Medtronic saw its EBIT decline by 7.4% over the last year. That sort of decline, if sustained, will obviously make debt harder to handle. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine Medtronic'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.
But our final consideration is also important, because a company cannot pay debt with paper profits; it needs cold hard cash. So the logical step is to look at the proportion of that EBIT that is matched by actual free cash flow. During the last three years, Medtronic generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 96% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
The good news is that Medtronic'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 EBIT growth rate. We would also note that Medical Equipment industry companies like Medtronic commonly do use debt without problems. When we consider the range of factors above, it looks like Medtronic is pretty sensible with its use of debt. While that brings some risk, it can also enhance returns for shareholders. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Medtronic insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.
If you're interested in investing in businesses that can grow profits without the burden of debt, then check out this free list of growing businesses that have net cash on the balance sheet.
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 Medtronic 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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Medtronic plc develops, manufactures, and sells device-based medical therapies to healthcare systems, physicians, clinicians, and patients 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.
Undervalued with solid track record and pays a dividend.
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.
Medtronic plc develops, manufactures, and sells device-based medical therapies to healthcare systems, physicians, clinicians, and patients 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.
Undervalued with solid track record and pays a dividend.
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