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We Think Elevance Health (NYSE:ELV) Can Manage Its Debt With Ease

·4 min read

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. As with many other companies Elevance Health Inc. (NYSE:ELV) makes use of debt. But the real question is whether this debt is making the company risky.

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. Ultimately, if the company can't fulfill its legal obligations to repay debt, shareholders could walk away with nothing. 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, 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 think about a company's use of debt, we first look at cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Elevance Health

What Is Elevance Health's Net Debt?

As you can see below, Elevance Health had US$23.6b of debt, at June 2022, which is about the same as the year before. You can click the chart for greater detail. But it also has US$33.8b in cash to offset that, meaning it has US$10.2b net cash.

debt-equity-history-analysis
debt-equity-history-analysis

How Strong Is Elevance Health's Balance Sheet?

The latest balance sheet data shows that Elevance Health had liabilities of US$39.3b due within a year, and liabilities of US$25.7b falling due after that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$33.8b as well as receivables valued at US$14.3b due within 12 months. So its liabilities total US$16.9b more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

Given Elevance Health has a humongous market capitalization of US$114.5b, it's hard to believe these liabilities pose much threat. But there are sufficient liabilities that we would certainly recommend shareholders continue to monitor the balance sheet, going forward. Despite its noteworthy liabilities, Elevance Health boasts net cash, so it's fair to say it does not have a heavy debt load!

And we also note warmly that Elevance Health grew its EBIT by 18% last year, making its debt load easier to handle. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately the future profitability of the business will decide if Elevance Health can strengthen its balance sheet over time. So if you want to see what the professionals think, you might find this free report on analyst profit forecasts to be interesting.

Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. Elevance Health 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. During the last three years, Elevance Health generated free cash flow amounting to a very robust 95% of its EBIT, more than we'd expect. That positions it well to pay down debt if desirable to do so.

Summing Up

While Elevance Health does have more liabilities than liquid assets, it also has net cash of US$10.2b. And it impressed us with free cash flow of US$8.0b, being 95% of its EBIT. So is Elevance Health's debt a risk? It doesn't seem so to us. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. We've identified 1 warning sign with Elevance Health , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

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.

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