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Should The Eastern Company (NASDAQ:EML) Focus On Improving This Fundamental Metric?

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). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand The Eastern Company (NASDAQ:EML).

Over the last twelve months Eastern has recorded a ROE of 10%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.10 in profit.

See our latest analysis for Eastern

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Eastern:

10% = 9.956564 ÷ US$95m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

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. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its 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 amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. 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 Eastern 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. If you look at the image below, you can see Eastern has a lower ROE than the average (14%) in the Machinery industry classification.

NasdaqGM:EML Past Revenue and Net Income, March 4th 2019

That’s not what we like to see. We’d prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Nonetheless, it might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

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 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.

Combining Eastern’s Debt And Its 10% Return On Equity

While Eastern does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.31, we wouldn’t say debt is excessive. Although the ROE isn’t overly impressive, the debt load is modest, suggesting the business has potential. 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.

But It’s Just One Metric

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth — and how much investment is required going forward. Check the past profit growth by Eastern by looking at this visualization of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

Of course Eastern 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 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.