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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. We'll use ROE to examine John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc. (NASDAQ:JBSS), by way of a worked example.
Over the last twelve months John B. Sanfilippo & Son has recorded a ROE of 14%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.14.
How Do You Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for John B. Sanfilippo & Son:
14% = US$34m ÷ US$244m (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)
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 earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. 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 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. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does John B. Sanfilippo & Son Have A Good ROE?
By comparing a company's ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, John B. Sanfilippo & Son has a higher ROE than the average (10%) in the Food industry.
That's what I like to see. 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.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining John B. Sanfilippo & Son's Debt And Its 14% Return On Equity
While John B. Sanfilippo & Son does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.27, we wouldn't say debt is excessive. Its very respectable ROE, combined with only modest debt, suggests the business is in good shape. Conservative use of debt to boost returns is usually a good move for shareholders, though it does leave the company more exposed to interest rate rises.
But It's Just One Metric
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. 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.
But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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 take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.