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Can The a2 Milk Company Limited (NZSE:ATM) Maintain Its Strong Returns?

Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). By way of learning-by-doing, we’ll look at ROE to gain a better understanding The a2 Milk Company Limited (NZSE:ATM).

a2 Milk has a ROE of 35%, based on the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each NZ$1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made NZ$0.35 in profit.

View our latest analysis for a2 Milk

How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for a2 Milk:

35% = 195.684 ÷ NZ$556m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2018.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.

What Does Return On Equity Mean?

Return on Equity measures a company’s profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). The ‘return’ is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does a2 Milk Have A Good Return On Equity?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. 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, a2 Milk has a better ROE than the average (8.5%) in the food industry.

NZSE:ATM Last Perf December 11th 18

That is a good sign. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example, I often check if insiders have been buying shares .

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

a2 Milk’s Debt And Its 35% ROE

Shareholders will be pleased to learn that a2 Milk has not one iota of net debt! Its high ROE indicates the business is high quality, but the fact that this was achieved without leverage is veritably impressive. After all, when a company has a strong balance sheet, it can often find ways to invest in growth, even if it takes some time.

The Bottom Line On ROE

Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

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 editorial-team@simplywallst.com.