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Can Crown Castle International Corp. (REIT) (NYSE:CCI) Improve Its Returns?

Gavin Beck

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 Crown Castle International Corp. (REIT) (NYSE:CCI).

Over the last twelve months Crown Castle International (REIT) has recorded a ROE of 4.5%. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.045 in profit.

View our latest analysis for Crown Castle International (REIT)

How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Crown Castle International (REIT):

4.5% = 443.256 ÷ US$12b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 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 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 measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. 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 Crown Castle International (REIT) Have A Good ROE?

Arguably the easiest way to assess company’s ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As shown in the graphic below, Crown Castle International (REIT) has a lower ROE than the average (6.8%) in the REITs industry classification.

NYSE:CCI Last Perf December 26th 18

Unfortunately, that’s sub-optimal. It is better when the ROE is above industry average, but a low one doesn’t necessarily mean the business is overpriced. Nonetheless, it could be useful to double-check if insiders have sold shares recently.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), 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 debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Crown Castle International (REIT)’s Debt And Its 4.5% ROE

Crown Castle International (REIT) clearly uses a significant amount debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.34. The combination of a rather low ROE and significant use of debt is not particularly appealing. 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.

But It’s Just One Metric

Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course Crown Castle International (REIT) 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 editorial-team@simplywallst.com.