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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand AH Belo Corporation (NYSE:AHC).
Over the last twelve months A.H. Belo has recorded a ROE of 12%. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.12 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for A.H. Belo:
12% = US$11m ÷ US$90m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 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 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 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. A higher profit will lead to a 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 A.H. Belo 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 is clear from the image below, A.H. Belo has a lower ROE than the average (19%) in the media industry.
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.
How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?
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 first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining A.H. Belo’s Debt And Its 12% Return On Equity
Shareholders will be pleased to learn that A.H. Belo has not one iota of net debt! Its solid ROE indicates a good business, especially when you consider it is not using leverage. After all, when a company has a strong balance sheet, it can often find ways to invest in growth, even if it takes some time.
But It’s Just One Metric
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. 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. You can see how the company has grow in the past by looking at this FREE detailed graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.
If you would prefer check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity 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.