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Should Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (TSE:MFI) Focus On Improving This Fundamental Metric?

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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (TSE:MFI).

Our data shows Maple Leaf Foods has a return on equity of 3.5% for the last year. That means that for every CA$1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated CA$0.04 in profit.

See our latest analysis for Maple Leaf Foods

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Maple Leaf Foods:

3.5% = CA$69m ÷ CA$1.9b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

It's easy to understand the 'net profit' part of that equation, but 'shareholders' equity' requires further explanation. 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 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. 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 ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does Maple Leaf Foods 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. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As shown in the graphic below, Maple Leaf Foods has a lower ROE than the average (10%) in the Food industry classification.

TSX:MFI Past Revenue and Net Income, November 6th 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. 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. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. 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.

Maple Leaf Foods's Debt And Its 3.5% ROE

Maple Leaf Foods has a debt to equity ratio of 0.24, which is far from excessive. Its ROE is certainly on the low side, and since it already uses debt, we're not too excited about the company. 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.

In Summary

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. 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 thisfree list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity 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.