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Is Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD) A High Quality Stock To Own?

Simply Wall St

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. By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD).

Over the last twelve months Gilead Sciences has recorded a ROE of 27%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.27 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Gilead Sciences

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Gilead Sciences:

27% = US$5.9b ÷ US$22b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders' equity is a little more complicated. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. 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. 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 it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Gilead Sciences Have A Good Return On Equity?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for 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, Gilead Sciences has a better ROE than the average (19%) in the Biotechs industry.

NasdaqGS:GILD Past Revenue and Net Income, July 22nd 2019

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. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining Gilead Sciences's Debt And Its 27% Return On Equity

Gilead Sciences does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.20. There's no doubt its ROE is impressive, but the company appears to use its debt to boost that metric. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.

The Bottom Line On ROE

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. 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, 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.