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Should We Be Cautious About Franklin Street Properties Corp.'s (NYSEMKT:FSP) ROE Of 0.5%?

Simply Wall St

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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Franklin Street Properties Corp. (NYSEMKT:FSP).

Over the last twelve months Franklin Street Properties has recorded a ROE of 0.5%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.01 in profit.

See our latest analysis for Franklin Street Properties

How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Franklin Street Properties:

0.5% = US$4.2m ÷ US$790m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

It's easy to understand the 'net profit' part of that equation, but 'shareholders' equity' requires further explanation. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.

What Does Return On Equity Signify?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. 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 it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Franklin Street Properties Have A Good Return On Equity?

Arguably the easiest way to assess company's ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. 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, Franklin Street Properties has a lower ROE than the average (6.0%) in the REITs industry.

AMEX:FSP Past Revenue and Net Income, November 19th 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 might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

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 case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. 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 Franklin Street Properties's Debt And Its 0.5% Return On Equity

Franklin Street Properties clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.23. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in my opinion. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using 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. 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 when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

Of course Franklin Street Properties 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 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. Thank you for reading.