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 Experian plc (LON:EXPN), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows Experian has a return on equity of 32% for the last year. That means that for every £1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated £0.32 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Experian:
32% = US$735m ÷ US$2.3b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Mean?
ROE measures a company's profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does Experian Have A Good ROE?
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. As is clear from the image below, Experian has a better ROE than the average (13%) in the Professional Services industry.
That is a good sign. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.
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 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.
Experian's Debt And Its 32% ROE
It's worth noting the significant use of debt by Experian, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.79. While the ROE is impressive, that metric has clearly benefited from the company's use of debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from 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. 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.
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. 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 Experian 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.
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.
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