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What is Behind Aeterna Zentaris Inc’s (TSE:AEZS) Superior ROE?

Ricardo Crouch

This article is intended for those of you who are at the beginning of your investing journey and want to learn about Return on Equity using a real-life example.

With an ROE of 15.24%, Aeterna Zentaris Inc (TSE:AEZS) outpaced its own industry which delivered a less exciting 14.58% over the past year. While the impressive ratio tells us that AEZS has made significant profits from little equity capital, ROE doesn’t tell us if AEZS has borrowed debt to make this happen. In this article, we’ll closely examine some factors like financial leverage to evaluate the sustainability of AEZS’s ROE.

See our latest analysis for Aeterna Zentaris

Peeling the layers of ROE – trisecting a company’s profitability

Return on Equity (ROE) weighs Aeterna Zentaris’s profit against the level of its shareholders’ equity. For example, if the company invests CA$1 in the form of equity, it will generate CA$0.15 in earnings from this. In most cases, a higher ROE is preferred; however, there are many other factors we must consider prior to making any investment decisions.

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders Equity

Returns are usually compared to costs to measure the efficiency of capital. Aeterna Zentaris’s cost of equity is 16.96%. Given a discrepancy of -1.72% between return and cost, this indicated that Aeterna Zentaris may be paying more for its capital than what it’s generating in return. ROE can be broken down into three different ratios: net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This is called the Dupont Formula:

Dupont Formula

ROE = profit margin × asset turnover × financial leverage

ROE = (annual net profit ÷ sales) × (sales ÷ assets) × (assets ÷ shareholders’ equity)

ROE = annual net profit ÷ shareholders’ equity

TSX:AEZS Last Perf August 10th 18

Basically, profit margin measures how much of revenue trickles down into earnings which illustrates how efficient the business is with its cost management. Asset turnover reveals how much revenue can be generated from Aeterna Zentaris’s asset base. Finally, financial leverage will be our main focus today. It shows how much of assets are funded by equity and can show how sustainable the company’s capital structure is. Since financial leverage can artificially inflate ROE, we need to look at how much debt Aeterna Zentaris currently has. Currently, Aeterna Zentaris has no debt which means its returns are driven purely by equity capital. Therefore, the level of financial leverage has no impact on ROE, and the ratio is a representative measure of the efficiency of all its capital employed firm-wide.

TSX:AEZS Historical Debt August 10th 18

Next Steps:

ROE is one of many ratios which meaningfully dissects financial statements, which illustrates the quality of a company. Aeterna Zentaris exhibits a strong ROE against its peers, however it was not high enough to cover its own cost of equity this year. Its high ROE is not likely to be driven by high debt. Therefore, investors may have more confidence in the sustainability of this level of returns going forward. ROE is a helpful signal, but it is definitely not sufficient on its own to make an investment decision.

For Aeterna Zentaris, there are three important factors you should further examine:

  1. Financial Health: Does it have a healthy balance sheet? Take a look at our free balance sheet analysis with six simple checks on key factors like leverage and risk.
  2. Valuation: What is Aeterna Zentaris worth today? Is the stock undervalued, even when its growth outlook is factored into its intrinsic value? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether Aeterna Zentaris is currently mispriced by the market.
  3. Other High-Growth Alternatives : Are there other high-growth stocks you could be holding instead of Aeterna Zentaris? Explore our interactive list of stocks with large growth potential to get an idea of what else is out there you may be missing!

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.