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 Metcash Limited (ASX:MTS), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows Metcash has a return on equity of 16% for the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every A$1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn A$0.16.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Metcash:
16% = AU$193m ÷ AU$1.3b (Based on the trailing twelve months to April 2019.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Signify?
ROE measures a company's profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.
Does Metcash 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. Pleasingly, Metcash has a superior ROE than the average (10%) company in the Consumer Retailing industry.
That is a good sign. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.
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 used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Metcash's Debt And Its 16% ROE
While Metcash does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.14, we wouldn't say debt is excessive. The fact that it achieved a fairly good ROE with only modest debt suggests the business might be worth putting on your watchlist. Judicious use of debt to improve returns can certainly be a good thing, although it does elevate risk slightly and reduce future optionality.
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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.
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. 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.
Of course Metcash 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 email@example.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.