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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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand BT Group plc (LON:BT.A).
Over the last twelve months BT Group has recorded a ROE of 21%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each £1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made £0.21 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for BT Group:
21% = UK£2.2b ÷ UK£10b (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 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 Signify?
ROE measures a company's profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The 'return' is the yearly profit. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does BT Group 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. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see BT Group has a similar ROE to the average in the Telecom industry classification (21%).
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 BT Group better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.
The Importance Of Debt To 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 two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
BT Group's Debt And Its 21% ROE
BT Group does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.66. There's no doubt its ROE is impressive, but the company appears to use its debt to boost that metric. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.
The Key Takeaway
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. 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.
Of course BT Group 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 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.