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One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. We'll use ROE to examine H.B. Fuller Company (NYSE:FUL), by way of a worked example.
Return on equity or ROE is an important factor to be considered by a shareholder because it tells them how effectively their capital is being reinvested. Put another way, it reveals the company's success at turning shareholder investments into profits.
How Is ROE Calculated?
Return on equity can be calculated by using the formula:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for H.B. Fuller is:
10% = US$123m ÷ US$1.2b (Based on the trailing twelve months to May 2020).
The 'return' is the income the business earned over the last year. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made $0.10 in profit.
Does H.B. Fuller 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. You can see in the graphic below that H.B. Fuller has an ROE that is fairly close to the average for the Chemicals industry (10%).
That's neither particularly good, nor bad. Although the ROE is similar to the industry, we should still perform further checks to see if the company's ROE is being boosted by high debt levels. If true, then it is more an indication of risk than the potential. You can see the 3 risks we have identified for H.B. Fuller by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Combining H.B. Fuller's Debt And Its 10% Return On Equity
H.B. Fuller clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.62. With a fairly low ROE, and significant use of debt, it's hard to get excited about this business at the moment. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.
Return on equity is one way we can compare its business quality of different companies. 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 you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
If you would prefer check out another company -- one with potentially superior financials -- then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity and low debt.
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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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