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Is Becton Dickinson (NYSE:BDX) A Risky Investment?

Simply Wall St

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. It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. We can see that Becton, Dickinson and Company (NYSE:BDX) does use debt in its business. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

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 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.

See our latest analysis for Becton Dickinson

What Is Becton Dickinson's Debt?

You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that Becton Dickinson had US$19.4b of debt in September 2019, down from US$21.5b, one year before. However, it also had US$566.0m in cash, and so its net debt is US$18.8b.

NYSE:BDX Historical Debt, November 12th 2019

How Healthy Is Becton Dickinson's Balance Sheet?

We can see from the most recent balance sheet that Becton Dickinson had liabilities of US$5.60b falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$25.1b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$566.0m as well as receivables valued at US$2.34b due within 12 months. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$27.8b.

This deficit isn't so bad because Becton Dickinson is worth a massive US$65.4b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. However, it is still worthwhile taking a close look at its ability to pay off debt.

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.

Becton Dickinson's debt is 3.7 times its EBITDA, and its EBIT cover its interest expense 4.6 times over. Taken together this implies that, while we wouldn't want to see debt levels rise, we think it can handle its current leverage. Becton Dickinson grew its EBIT by 4.2% in the last year. That's far from incredible but it is a good thing, when it comes to paying off debt. There's no doubt that we learn most about debt from the balance sheet. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Becton Dickinson 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. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. During the last three years, Becton Dickinson produced sturdy free cash flow equating to 78% of its EBIT, about what we'd expect. This cold hard cash means it can reduce its debt when it wants to.

Our View

On our analysis Becton Dickinson's conversion of EBIT to free cash flow should signal that it won't have too much trouble with its debt. But the other factors we noted above weren't so encouraging. For example, its net debt to EBITDA makes us a little nervous about its debt. It's also worth noting that Becton Dickinson is in the Medical Equipment industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. When we consider all the elements mentioned above, it seems to us that Becton Dickinson is managing its debt quite well. But a word of caution: we think debt levels are high enough to justify ongoing monitoring. Of course, we wouldn't say no to the extra confidence that we'd gain if we knew that Becton Dickinson insiders have been buying shares: if you're on the same wavelength, you can find out if insiders are buying by clicking this link.

Of course, if you're the type of investor who prefers buying stocks without the burden of debt, then don't hesitate to discover our exclusive list of net cash growth stocks, today.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. 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. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.