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Should We Be Cautious About Global Net Lease, Inc.'s (NYSE:GNL) ROE Of 1.4%?

Simply Wall St

While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Global Net Lease, Inc. (NYSE:GNL).

Over the last twelve months Global Net Lease has recorded a ROE of 1.4%. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated $0.01 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Global Net Lease

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Global Net Lease:

1.4% = US$11m ÷ US$1.5b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.

What Does ROE Signify?

ROE measures a company's profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The 'return' is the yearly profit. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. 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 Global Net Lease Have A Good ROE?

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. If you look at the image below, you can see Global Net Lease has a lower ROE than the average (6.1%) in the REITs industry classification.

NYSE:GNL Past Revenue and Net Income, September 30th 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. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. 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. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining Global Net Lease's Debt And Its 1.4% Return On Equity

Global Net Lease clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.18. The combination of a rather low ROE and significant use of debt is not particularly appealing. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.

In Summary

Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

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 Global Net Lease 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.