One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. We’ll use ROE to examine Safety, Income & Growth Inc. (NYSE:SAFE), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows Safety Income & Growth has a return on equity of 1.7% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.017 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Safety Income & Growth:
1.7% = 6.088 ÷ US$371m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Signify?
ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the profit over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Safety Income & Growth Have A Good Return On Equity?
By comparing a company’s ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Safety Income & Growth has a lower ROE than the average (6.8%) in the REITs industry.
Unfortunately, that’s sub-optimal. It is better when the ROE is above industry average, but a low one doesn’t necessarily mean the business is overpriced. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Safety Income & Growth’s Debt And Its 1.7% ROE
Safety Income & Growth clearly uses a significant amount debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.00. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that’s not a good result, in my opinion. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course Safety Income & Growth may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.
To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.
The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at email@example.com.