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David Iben put it well when he said, 'Volatility is not a risk we care about. What we care about is avoiding the permanent loss of capital.' 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. We note that Anthem, Inc. (NYSE:ANTM) does have debt on its balance sheet. But should shareholders be worried about its use of debt?
When Is Debt Dangerous?
Debt is a tool to help businesses grow, but if a business is incapable of paying off its lenders, then it exists at their mercy. In the worst case scenario, a company can go bankrupt if it cannot pay its creditors. However, a more frequent (but still costly) occurrence is where a company must issue shares at bargain-basement prices, permanently diluting shareholders, just to shore up its balance sheet. 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 examine debt levels, we first consider both cash and debt levels, together.
What Is Anthem's Debt?
As you can see below, Anthem had US$20.0b of debt, at December 2020, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. However, it does have US$30.7b in cash offsetting this, leading to net cash of US$10.7b.
A Look At Anthem's Liabilities
According to the last reported balance sheet, Anthem had liabilities of US$29.5b due within 12 months, and liabilities of US$24.0b due beyond 12 months. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$30.7b as well as receivables valued at US$11.0b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$11.7b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
Since publicly traded Anthem shares are worth a very impressive total of US$74.3b, it seems unlikely that this level of liabilities would be a major threat. However, we do think it is worth keeping an eye on its balance sheet strength, as it may change over time. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Anthem boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!
Another good sign is that Anthem has been able to increase its EBIT by 23% in twelve months, making it easier to pay down 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 Anthem 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, while the tax-man may adore accounting profits, lenders only accept cold hard cash. Anthem 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. Over the last three years, Anthem recorded free cash flow worth a fulsome 83% of its EBIT, which is stronger than we'd usually expect. That puts it in a very strong position to pay down debt.
Although Anthem's balance sheet isn't particularly strong, due to the total liabilities, it is clearly positive to see that it has net cash of US$10.7b. The cherry on top was that in converted 83% of that EBIT to free cash flow, bringing in US$9.7b. So is Anthem's debt a risk? It doesn't seem so to us. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example - Anthem has 1 warning sign we think 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.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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.
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