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Should You Be Excited About Alliance Data Systems Corporation's (NYSE:ADS) 43% Return On Equity?

Simply Wall St

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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 Alliance Data Systems Corporation (NYSE:ADS).

Our data shows Alliance Data Systems has a return on equity of 43% for the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.43.

Check out our latest analysis for Alliance Data Systems

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Alliance Data Systems:

43% = US$961m ÷ US$2.2b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

It's easy to understand the 'net profit' part of that equation, but 'shareholders' equity' requires further explanation. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. 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 looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Alliance Data Systems 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. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, Alliance Data Systems has a higher ROE than the average (14%) in the IT industry.

NYSE:ADS Past Revenue and Net Income, May 9th 2019

That's what I like to see. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.

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. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Combining Alliance Data Systems's Debt And Its 43% Return On Equity

It appears that Alliance Data Systems makes extensive use of debt to improve its returns, because it has a relatively high debt to equity ratio of 10.84. So although the company has an impressive ROE, that figure would be a lot lower without the use of debt.

In Summary

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.

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. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course Alliance Data Systems 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.