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 Bunzl plc (LON:BNZL), by way of a worked example.
Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. In short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Bunzl is:
20% = UK£380m ÷ UK£1.9b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2020).
The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every £1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn £0.20 in profit.
Does Bunzl 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see Bunzl has a similar ROE to the average in the Trade Distributors industry classification (20%).
That isn't amazing, but it is respectable. While at least the ROE is not lower than the industry, its still worth checking what role the company's debt plays as high debt levels relative to equity may also make the ROE appear high. If true, then it is more an indication of risk than the potential. To know the 2 risks we have identified for Bunzl visit our risks dashboard for free.
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 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.
Bunzl's Debt And Its 20% ROE
Bunzl clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.07. While its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit as to how much debt a company can use. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.
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. 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
If you would prefer check out another company -- one with potentially superior financials -- then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity and low debt.
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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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