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). We'll use ROE to examine RPM International Inc. (NYSE:RPM), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows RPM International has a return on equity of 19% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.19 in profit.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for RPM International:
19% = US$265m ÷ US$1.4b (Based on the trailing twelve months to May 2019.)
Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders' equity is a little more complicated. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Signify?
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 being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.
Does RPM International 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, RPM International has a higher ROE than the average (14%) in the Chemicals industry.
That's clearly a positive. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the first and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. 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.
RPM International's Debt And Its 19% ROE
It's worth noting the significant use of debt by RPM International, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.79. Its ROE is quite good but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
The Key Takeaway
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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.
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 take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
Of course RPM International 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.
We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.
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.