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. We'll use ROE to examine Cincinnati Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:CINF), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows Cincinnati Financial has a return on equity of 9.8% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.10 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Cincinnati Financial:
9.8% = US$919m ÷ US$9.4b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 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. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the 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. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.
Does Cincinnati Financial Have A Good ROE?
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. If you look at the image below, you can see Cincinnati Financial has a similar ROE to the average in the Insurance industry classification (9.0%).
That's not overly surprising. ROE can give us a view about company quality, but many investors also look to other factors, such as whether there are insiders buying shares. If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.
The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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 debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Combining Cincinnati Financial's Debt And Its 9.8% Return On Equity
While Cincinnati Financial does have a tiny amount of debt, with debt to equity of just 0.088, we think the use of debt is very modest. The fact that it achieved a fairly good ROE with only modest debt suggests the business might be worth putting on your watchlist. Judicious use of debt to improve returns can certainly be a good thing, although it does elevate risk slightly and reduce future optionality.
The Key Takeaway
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. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
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 check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course Cincinnati Financial 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.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.
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