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Did Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) Use Debt To Deliver Its ROE Of 8.3%?

Simply Wall St

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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. By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT).

Abbott Laboratories has a ROE of 8.3%, based on the last twelve months. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated $0.083 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Abbott Laboratories

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Abbott Laboratories:

8.3% = US$2.6b ÷ US$31b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

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. Shareholders' equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.

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

Does Abbott Laboratories 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. The image below shows that Abbott Laboratories has an ROE that is roughly in line with the Medical Equipment industry average (9.4%).

NYSE:ABT Past Revenue and Net Income, June 3rd 2019

That's neither particularly good, nor bad. ROE doesn't tell us if the share price is low, but it can inform us to the nature of the business. For those looking for a bargain, other factors may be more important. I will like Abbott Laboratories better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Combining Abbott Laboratories's Debt And Its 8.3% Return On Equity

Although Abbott Laboratories does use debt, its debt to equity ratio of 0.64 is still low. Although the ROE isn't overly impressive, the debt load is modest, suggesting the business has potential. 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.

In Summary

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. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. 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 you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course Abbott Laboratories 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.

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.