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As US debt grows, here are 23 debt-free companies

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Wall Street doesn't seem to care if companies are carrying debt on their balance sheets – as long as they are putting that money to work, perhaps even towards a dividend or buyback.

CNBC research shows that only about 23 companies in the S&P 500 have managed to stay debt-free. Yet, when looking at the year-to-date stock performance, only eight of these names are outperforming the S&P 500. Those companies are Chipotle, MasterCard, Bed Bath & Beyond, Paychex, Visa, Akamai, Robert Half and Forest Labs. Out of these, Mastercard, Paychex, Visa and Robert Half all pay a dividend.

Lazard Capital's Managing Director Art Hogan says having no debt isn't necessarily a big plus for a company and that now it is actually a favorable time for companies to take on debt. "It makes sense for companies to take on reasonable levels of debt when it is affordable and interest rates are relatively low. Companies continue on the whole to have reasonable debt-to-equity ratios and most of the selling pressure that we have seen in this current uncertainty has been agnostic of debt levels and more of the risk off sell all stocks variety," says Hogan.

Table Debt-Free Companies 131016

Ticker Company Price YTD % Chg. Sector
CMGChipotle 437.25,47Cons. Discretionary
MAMasterCard697.91,42.1Technology
BBBYBed Bath & Beyond76.86,37.5Cons. Discretionary
PAYXPaychex40.96,31.7Technology
VVisa 195.46,28.9Technology
AKAMAkamai 52,27.1Technology
RHIRobert Half Intl.40.2,26.3Industrials
FRXForest Labs.43.86,24.2Health Care
GRMNGarmin 47.95,17.7Cons. Discretionary
CTSHCognizant Technology 86.32,16.8Technology
TROWT. Rowe Price 75.59,16.1Financials
LSILSI Corp.7.76,9.8Technology
EXPDExpeditors Intl.43.38,9.7Industrials
MNSTMonster Beverage 56.78,7.5Cons. Staples
NWSANews Corp.16.67,5.5Cons. Discretionary
FASTFastenal48.53,4Industrials
PWRQuanta Services27.99,2.6Industrials
COHCoach53.83-3Cons. Discretionary
URBNUrban Outfitters36.27-7.9Cons. Discretionary
FFIVF5 Networks88.07-9.3Technology
CTXSCitrix Systems57.46-12.4Technology
RHTRed Hat43.49-17.9Technology
ISRGIntuitive Surgical397.86-18.9Health Care

Although Oppenheimer's Chief Market Strategist John Stoltzfus says the high focus on Washington's debt issues has made investors more selective and cognizant of the debt a company carries."I think you'll start to see more people on the street putting in to the consideration how companies are actively managing their debt levels," says Stoltzfus.

As for the 23 debt-free companies, about half are from the technology sector. In fact, technology has the lowest percent debt-to-total assets ratio. standing at about 16 percent. Other sectors that don't carry a whole lot of debt include Financials (23 percent), Energy (24 percent) and Industrials (26 percent). On the flip side, sectors like Telecom, Utilities and Consumer Staples have on average, the highest percentage of debt to total assets ratio, at 46 percent,36 percent, and 34 percent, respectively. Analysts say some companies in these defensive sectors, which tend to generate steady cash, on average offer a high dividend yield and thus take on debt to funds these payouts.

—BY CNBC's Seema Mody and Giovanny Moreano. Follow them on Twitter @SeemaCNBC and @GiovannyMoreano