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Did Anglo American plc (LON:AAL) Use Debt To Deliver Its ROE Of 17%?

Simply Wall St

Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Anglo American plc (LON:AAL).

Anglo American has a ROE of 17%, based on the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every £1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn £0.17.

View our latest analysis for Anglo American

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Anglo American:

17% = US$4.1b ÷ US$31b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 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. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the total assets.

What Does ROE Mean?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Anglo American Have A Good Return On Equity?

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. You can see in the graphic below that Anglo American has an ROE that is fairly close to the average for the Metals and Mining industry (16%).

LSE:AAL Past Revenue and Net Income, October 29th 2019

That's not overly surprising. ROE tells us about the quality of the business, but it does not give us much of an idea if the share price is cheap. If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

How Does Debt Impact 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining Anglo American's Debt And Its 17% Return On Equity

While Anglo American does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.31, we wouldn't say debt is excessive. The combination of modest debt and a very respectable ROE suggests this is a business worth watching. Judicious use of debt to improve returns can certainly be a good thing, although it does elevate risk slightly and reduce future optionality.

The Key Takeaway

Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. 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. 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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

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.