One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. By way of learning-by-doing, we’ll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Systemax Inc. (NYSE:SYX).
Our data shows Systemax has a return on equity of 22% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.22 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 Systemax:
22% = 80.4 ÷ US$371m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)
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. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does ROE 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 amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Systemax 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, Systemax has a better ROE than the average (13%) in the Trade Distributors industry.
That’s what I like to see. 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?
Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. 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.
Combining Systemax’s Debt And Its 22% Return On Equity
Shareholders will be pleased to learn that Systemax has not one iota of net debt! Its respectable ROE suggests it is a business worth watching, but it’s even better the company achieved this without leverage. After all, with cash on the balance sheet, a company has a lot more optionality in good times and bad.
But It’s Just One Metric
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.
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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: Systemax may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with high ROE and low debt.
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 email@example.com.