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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand United-Guardian, Inc. (NASDAQ:UG).
United-Guardian has a ROE of 40%, based on the last twelve months. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated $0.40 in profit.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for United-Guardian:
40% = US$4.4m ÷ US$11m (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 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 Return On Equity 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. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does United-Guardian 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, United-Guardian has a better ROE than the average (16%) in the Personal Products industry.
That is a good sign. I usually take a closer look when a company has a better ROE than industry peers. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
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 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. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
United-Guardian's Debt And Its 40% ROE
One positive for shareholders is that United-Guardian does not have any net debt! Its impressive ROE suggests it is a high quality business, but it's even better to have achieved that without leverage. After all, with cash on the balance sheet, a company has a lot more optionality in good times and bad.
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. 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 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 I think it may be worth checking this free this detailed graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow .
But note: United-Guardian 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 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.