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Should You Be Excited About The a2 Milk Company Limited's (NZSE:ATM) 39% Return On Equity?

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 a2 Milk Company Limited (NZSE:ATM).

a2 Milk has a ROE of 39%, based on the last twelve months. That means that for every NZ$1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated NZ$0.39 in profit.

See our latest analysis for a2 Milk

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for a2 Milk:

39% = NZ$250m ÷ NZ$644m (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

It's easy to understand the 'net profit' part of that equation, but 'shareholders' equity' requires further explanation. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. Shareholders' equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.

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. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does a2 Milk Have A Good Return On Equity?

Arguably the easiest way to assess company's ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, a2 Milk has a superior ROE than the average (7.6%) company in the Food industry.

NZSE:ATM Past Revenue and Net Income, August 3rd 2019

That is a good sign. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. For example, I often check if insiders have been buying shares .

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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 used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

a2 Milk's Debt And Its 39% ROE

a2 Milk is free of net debt, which is a positive for shareholders. Its high ROE indicates the business is high quality, but the fact that this was achieved without leverage is veritably impressive. After all, with cash on the balance sheet, a company has a lot more optionality in good times and bad.

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 the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. 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.