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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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Fortune Brands Home & Security, Inc. (NYSE:FBHS).
Over the last twelve months Fortune Brands Home & Security has recorded a ROE of 18%. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated $0.18 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Fortune Brands Home & Security:
18% = US$399m ÷ US$2.2b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. 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 looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the yearly profit. 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. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does Fortune Brands Home & Security 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, Fortune Brands Home & Security has a higher ROE than the average (14%) in the Building industry.
That's clearly a positive. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Fortune Brands Home & Security's Debt And Its 18% Return On Equity
Fortune Brands Home & Security does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.20. while its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit 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.
But It's Just One Metric
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course Fortune Brands Home & Security 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.