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.

Debt-Free Companies

YTD % Chg.
CMG Chipotle 437.25 47 Cons. Discretionary
MA MasterCard 697.91 42.1 Technology
BBBY Bed Bath & Beyond 76.86 37.5 Cons. Discretionary
PAYX Paychex 40.96 31.7 Technology
V Visa 195.46 28.9 Technology
AKAM Akamai 52 27.1 Technology
RHI Robert Half Intl. 40.2 26.3 Industrials
FRX Forest Labs. 43.86 24.2 Health Care
GRMN Garmin 47.95 17.7 Cons. Discretionary
CTSH Cognizant Technology 86.32 16.8 Technology
TROW T. Rowe Price 75.59 16.1 Financials
LSI LSI Corp. 7.76 9.8 Technology
EXPD Expeditors Intl. 43.38 9.7 Industrials
MNST Monster Beverage 56.78 7.5 Cons. Staples
NWSA News Corp. 16.67 5.5 Cons. Discretionary
FAST Fastenal 48.53 4 Industrials
PWR Quanta Services 27.99 2.6 Industrials
COH Coach 53.83 -3 Cons. Discretionary
URBN Urban Outfitters 36.27 -7.9 Cons. Discretionary
FFIV F5 Networks 88.07 -9.3 Technology
CTXS Citrix Systems 57.46 -12.4 Technology
RHT Red Hat 43.49 -17.9 Technology
ISRG Intuitive Surgical 397.86 -18.9 Health Care
All values as of 12:30PM EST. Source: CNBC Analytics

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