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Should Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation (NASDAQ:GLDD) Focus On Improving This Fundamental Metric?

Simply Wall St

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). We'll use ROE to examine Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation (NASDAQ:GLDD), by way of a worked example.

Over the last twelve months Great Lakes Dredge & Dock has recorded a ROE of 5.1%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.051.

View our latest analysis for Great Lakes Dredge & Dock

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Great Lakes Dredge & Dock:

5.1% = US$11m ÷ US$215m (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.

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, 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 Great Lakes Dredge & Dock 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see Great Lakes Dredge & Dock has a lower ROE than the average (9.5%) in the Construction industry classification.

NasdaqGS:GLDD Past Revenue and Net Income, April 24th 2019

That's not what we like to see. We'd prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

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 two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock's Debt And Its 5.1% ROE

It's worth noting the significant use of debt by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.55. While the ROE isn't too bad, it would probably be a lot lower if the company was forced to reduce debt. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.

The Key Takeaway

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

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 check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course Great Lakes Dredge & Dock 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.