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). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Wabtec Corporation (NYSE:WAB).
Wabtec has a ROE of 10%, based on the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.10.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Wabtec:
10% = US$294m ÷ US$2.9b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 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. Shareholders' equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.
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 amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.
Does Wabtec 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, Wabtec has a lower ROE than the average (14%) in the Machinery industry.
That certainly isn't ideal. 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 Return On Equity?
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 used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Wabtec's Debt And Its 10% Return On Equity
Wabtec does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.34. While the ROE isn't too bad, it would probably be a lot lower if the company was forced to reduce debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
But It's Just One Metric
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of 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.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. Thank you for reading.