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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. We’ll use ROE to examine Four Seasons Education (Cayman) Inc. (NYSE:FEDU), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows Four Seasons Education (Cayman) has a return on equity of 2.5% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.025 in profit.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Four Seasons Education (Cayman):
2.5% = 13.292 ÷ CN¥785m (Based on the trailing twelve months to November 2018.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does ROE Mean?
ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.
Does Four Seasons Education (Cayman) 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. As is clear from the image below, Four Seasons Education (Cayman) has a lower ROE than the average (13%) in the Consumer Services industry.
That’s not what we like to see. We prefer it when the ROE of a company is above the industry average, but it’s not the be-all and end-all if it is lower. Nonetheless, it could be useful to double-check if insiders have sold shares recently.
The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity
Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Four Seasons Education (Cayman)’s Debt And Its 2.5% ROE
One positive for shareholders is that Four Seasons Education (Cayman) does not have any net debt! It’s hard to argue its ROE is much good, but the fact that no debt was used is some comfort. At the end of the day, when a company has zero debt, it is in a better position to take future growth opportunities.
The Bottom Line On ROE
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course Four Seasons Education (Cayman) 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.
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.