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Is The Coca-Cola Company's (NYSE:KO) 36% ROE Better Than Average?

Simply Wall St

Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). We'll use ROE to examine The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO), by way of a worked example.

Our data shows Coca-Cola has a return on equity of 36% for the last year. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated $0.36 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Coca-Cola

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Coca-Cola:

36% = US$7.3b ÷ US$20b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

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

What Does ROE Mean?

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. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does Coca-Cola 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, Coca-Cola has a better ROE than the average (20%) in the Beverage industry.

NYSE:KO Past Revenue and Net Income, August 19th 2019

That's clearly a positive. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. 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.

Coca-Cola's Debt And Its 36% ROE

It's worth noting the significant use of debt by Coca-Cola, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 2.22. I think the ROE is impressive, but it would have been assisted by the use of 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.

In Summary

Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. 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.

But note: Coca-Cola may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with 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.