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 Littelfuse, Inc. (NASDAQ:LFUS), by way of a worked example.
Littelfuse has a ROE of 11%, based on the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.11 in profit.
How Do You Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Littelfuse:
11% = US$167m ÷ US$1.5b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)
Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders' equity is a little more complicated. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its 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, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.
Does Littelfuse 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 Littelfuse has a similar ROE to the average in the Electronic industry classification (12%).
That's not overly surprising. 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. If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. 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.
Littelfuse's Debt And Its 11% ROE
While Littelfuse does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.45, we wouldn't say debt is excessive. Its very respectable ROE, combined with only modest debt, suggests the business is in good shape. 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 a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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. 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 Littelfuse 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.
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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.