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Is Antofagasta plc's (LON:ANTO) 11% ROE Worse Than Average?

Simply Wall St

While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. We'll use ROE to examine Antofagasta plc (LON:ANTO), by way of a worked example.

Antofagasta has a ROE of 11%, based on the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each £1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made £0.11 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Antofagasta

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Antofagasta:

11% = US$602m ÷ US$9.2b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

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. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.

What Does ROE Mean?

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. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does Antofagasta 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. If you look at the image below, you can see Antofagasta has a lower ROE than the average (16%) in the Metals and Mining industry classification.

LSE:ANTO Past Revenue and Net Income, December 12th 2019

That certainly isn't ideal. We'd prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Nonetheless, it could be useful to double-check if insiders have sold shares recently.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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 debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining Antofagasta's Debt And Its 11% Return On Equity

Although Antofagasta does use debt, its debt to equity ratio of 0.26 is still low. The combination of modest debt and a very respectable ROE suggests this is a business worth watching. Careful use of debt to boost returns is often very good for shareholders. However, it could reduce the company's ability to take advantage of future opportunities.

The Bottom Line On ROE

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.

Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course Antofagasta 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.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

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