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 Affluent Foundation Holdings Limited (HKG:1757), by way of a worked example.
Over the last twelve months Affluent Foundation Holdings has recorded a ROE of 10%. That means that for every HK$1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated HK$0.10 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Affluent Foundation Holdings:
10% = HK$19m ÷ HK$179m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)
It’s easy to understand the ‘net profit’ part of that equation, but ‘shareholders’ equity’ requires further explanation. 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 ROE Mean?
ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the yearly profit. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. 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 Affluent Foundation Holdings Have A Good ROE?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see Affluent Foundation Holdings has a similar ROE to the average in the Construction industry classification (12%).
That isn’t amazing, but it is respectable. ROE can give us a view about company quality, but many investors also look to other factors, such as whether there are insiders buying shares. I will like Affluent Foundation Holdings better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.
How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?
Most companies need money — from somewhere — 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Affluent Foundation Holdings’s Debt And Its 10% ROE
While Affluent Foundation Holdings does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.11, we wouldn’t say debt is excessive. Its very respectable ROE, combined with only modest debt, suggests the business is in good shape. Careful use of debt to boost returns is often very good for shareholders. However, it could reduce the company’s ability to take advantage of future opportunities.
The Bottom Line On ROE
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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 when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. You can see how the company has grow in the past by looking at this FREE detailed graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.
But note: Affluent Foundation Holdings 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.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.