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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 3M Company (NYSE:MMM).
Return on equity or ROE is a key measure used to assess how efficiently a company's management is utilizing the company's capital. Put another way, it reveals the company's success at turning shareholder investments into profits.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for 3M is:
41% = US$5.9b ÷ US$15b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2021).
The 'return' refers to a company's earnings over the last year. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.41 in profit.
Does 3M Have A Good Return On Equity?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for 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 you can see in the graphic below, 3M has a higher ROE than the average (24%) in the Industrials industry.
That's what we like to see. However, bear in mind that a high ROE doesn’t necessarily indicate efficient profit generation. Especially when a firm uses high levels of debt to finance its debt which may boost its ROE but the high leverage puts the company at risk. You can see the 2 risks we have identified for 3M by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
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 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 3M's Debt And Its 41% Return On Equity
It's worth noting the high use of debt by 3M, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.26. While no doubt that its ROE is impressive, we would have been even more impressed had the company achieved this with lower debt. 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.
Return on equity is one way we can compare its business quality of different companies. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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