The Value of Debt: How many companies actually have debt?

One of the main points from the book The Value of Debt (which I wrote about previously) is that every company has debt, they use it strategically, and instead of a knee jerk fear of debt, individuals and families should also consider using debt strategically.

That sounds pretty plausible.

Virtually every company of any size chooses a holistic approach to its balance sheet that embraces having both assets and debts.

The author claims that only a handful of companies have no debt. That also sounds…plausible? I guess? I don’t know.

So I was pretty confused to read Aswath Damodaran say that “A large percentage of firms, more than 25% in the US and almost 20% globally, have no debt.”

He then shows that different countries have very different debt ratios on average.

From Damodaran http://aswathdamodaran.blogspot.com/2017/02/january-2017-data-update-8-dark-and.html

So now I’m a bit confused by Anderson’s claim. He says that virtually no company is debt free. Damodaran (who, honestly, I trust more) says that one-quarter of all US companies have no debt. (Possibly this is down to different definitions of debt?)

But even more interesting is that “think like & act like a company” isn’t very useful advice. In the US having 25% debt is the average. But in Spain it is over 40%. And in Denmark it is under 20%. All of those companies are run by smart CFOs who think about how to use debt strategically, right?

What does that mean for an individual’s use of strategic debt? Is Anderson’s argument fatally undermined?