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 LifeTech Scientific Corporation (HKG:1302).
Over the last twelve months LifeTech Scientific has recorded a ROE of 11%. Another way to think of that is that for every HK$1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn HK$0.11.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for LifeTech Scientific:
11% = CN¥146m ÷ CN¥1.4b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 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. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does ROE Mean?
Return on Equity measures a company's profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. 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 LifeTech Scientific Have A Good Return On Equity?
By comparing a company's ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. The image below shows that LifeTech Scientific has an ROE that is roughly in line with the Medical Equipment industry average (11%).
That's not overly surprising. ROE can give us a view about company quality, but many investors also look to other factors, such as whether there are insiders buying shares. I will like LifeTech Scientific better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.
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 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.
LifeTech Scientific's Debt And Its 11% ROE
LifeTech Scientific has a debt to equity ratio of 0.23, which is far from excessive. Its very respectable ROE, combined with only modest debt, suggests the business is in good shape. Conservative use of debt to boost returns is usually a good move for shareholders, though it does leave the company more exposed to interest rate rises.
But It's Just One Metric
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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 you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
Of course LifeTech Scientific 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 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.
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