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). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Great Portland Estates Plc (LON:GPOR).
Great Portland Estates has a ROE of 2.7%, based on the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each £1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made £0.03 in profit.
How Do You Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Great Portland Estates:
2.7% = UK£60m ÷ UK£2.2b (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 amount earned after tax 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 it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Great Portland Estates 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. As shown in the graphic below, Great Portland Estates has a lower ROE than the average (6.6%) in the REITs industry classification.
That certainly isn't ideal. We'd prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Nonetheless, it might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.
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 case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. 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 Portland Estates's Debt And Its 2.7% ROE
While Great Portland Estates does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.15, we wouldn't say debt is excessive. Its ROE is rather low, and it does use some debt, albeit not much. That's not great to see. 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.
The Key Takeaway
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: Great Portland Estates may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with high ROE and low debt.
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