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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. We'll use ROE to examine Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (NYSE:MMC), 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. In short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Marsh & McLennan Companies is:
24% = US$2.3b ÷ US$9.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2021).
The 'return' is the yearly profit. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.24 in profit.
Does Marsh & McLennan Companies Have A Good ROE?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, Marsh & McLennan Companies has a higher ROE than the average (11%) in the Insurance industry.
That's clearly a positive. With that said, a high ROE doesn't always indicate high profitability. A higher proportion of debt in a company's capital structure may also result in a high ROE, where the high debt levels could be a huge risk .
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- 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. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Marsh & McLennan Companies' Debt And Its 24% ROE
It's worth noting the high use of debt by Marsh & McLennan Companies, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.17. While no doubt that its ROE is impressive, we would have been even more impressed had the company achieved this with lower debt. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.
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 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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst 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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